The Slatest

Every Law Professor With a Twitter Account Says Congressman Matt Gaetz Just Committed Witness Tampering

Matt Gaetz speaking to reporters, looking agitated.
Did I do that?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz sent the following tweet to Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen:

Gaetz’s threat comes on the eve of Cohen’s public testimony about the president’s involvement in schemes to buy the silence of adult actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in order to prevent the public from discovering that a man famous for being unfaithful to his various wives was still sleeping around. There’s a complicated moral calculus surrounding these payoffs: It’s obviously good any time Donald Trump has less money, but it might also have been good for the public to have evidence that Trump is an immoral jerk who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near government power. On the other hand, the public already had mountains of evidence that Trump was an immoral jerk who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near government power on Nov. 8, 2016, and elected him anyway, so it’s possible the payoffs were nothing more than a waste of Trump’s money, which, again, would be something to applaud. On the other hand, Gaetz’s tweet threatening Cohen the night before he testifies seems to be a little easier to parse. For more on this, let’s check in with what looks like every single law professor in America. Here’s Ryan Goodman of NYU:

Here’s Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas:

Here’s Rick Hasen of UC–Irvine:

Here’s Anthony Michael Kreis of Chicago-Kent:

Here’s Laurence Tribe of Harvard:

In fact, there seem to be only two members of the legal establishment willing to defend Gaetz’s actions. The first is one Matthew Louis Gaetz II, a 2007 graduate of the College of William and Mary. Although Gaetz is himself a sitting congressman, he nevertheless seems to feel that there was nothing untoward about Gaetz’s tweet, which he described as “witness testing” rather than witness tampering.

Rep. Gaetz further elaborated his defense of Rep. Gaetz in an interview with the Daily Beast, saying, “This is what it looks like to compete in the marketplace of ideas.” But Gaetz has something of a conflict of interest here, in the sense that he, himself, is Matt Gaetz. Only one prominent lawyer who was not Gaetz was willing to defend Gaetz’s actions, and he hasn’t been a real player since the 1970s. Here’s Tom Hagen of (presumably) USC, leading by example:

Now that’s ethical lawyering! Unfortunately, one of the mildest responses to Gaetz’s tweet came from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who warned that the Committee on Ethics might look into the matter because tweeting threats about exposing a private citizen’s alleged infidelities the night before he testifies about the president’s criminal conduct might “be construed as not reflecting creditably on the House”:

Be mindful, Matt Gaetz!

Update, Feb. 27, 2018: After receiving implicit criticism from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Gaetz deleted his original tweet and sent a new one Tuesday night, apologizing for his earlier remarks: