© Reuters. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks with the media about the memo released by the House Intelligence Committee in Washington© Reuters. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks with the media about the memo released by the House Intelligence Committee in Washington

(Reuters) – U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz has come under Florida state bar scrutiny for a Twitter message that critics said was meant to intimidate President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, the night before his public testimony on Capitol Hill.

The tweet posted by Gaetz, a second-term Republican from Florida’s Panhandle who is closely allied with Trump, suggested that compromising information about Cohen’s private life might soon be released.

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat,” Gaetz tweeted on Tuesday. “I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…”

Cohen, the president’s one-time “fixer” who has turned against his former boss, is scheduled to begin serving a three-year federal prison sentence in May after pleading guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Florida Bar said the organization was examining the Gaetz tweet.

“The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation,” the spokeswoman, Francine Walker said in a statement.

Separately, U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice, a New York Democrat and former federal prosecutor, sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday asking that panel for an investigation, ABC News and CNN.

The two news outlets quoted Rice’s letter as saying the Gaetz tweet constitutes witness tampering as defined by federal law, which she said “applies to proceedings before Congress.” She also urged the committee to make “any and all appropriate referrals” to the U.S. Justice Department.

APOLOGY FROM GAETZ

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, denounced the “despicable lies and personal smears” contained in the tweet and called on lawmakers from both parties to “repudiate his words and his conduct.”

Gaetz initially defended his tweet, shrugging off criticism that his message could be construed as witness tampering.

“It’s witness testing,” Gaetz said. “We already know that Michael Cohen lies to Congress. We already know that he lies to law enforcement. Now we’re going find out if he also lies to the people closest to him.”

Gaetz later apologized on Twitter, saying he was deleting the tweet in question and insisting his aim was to “create context” around Cohen’s testimony.

“It was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did,” wrote Gaetz, who is not a member of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee where Cohen appeared on Wednesday. “I should have chosen words that better showed by intent. I’m sorry.”

    In nationally televised testimony on Wednesday, Cohen, 52, assailed Trump’s character, calling him a “conman” and “cheat” who knew in advance about the release of stolen emails aimed at hurting his Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential race.

    Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Russia denies U.S. intelligence agencies’ assertions that it interfered in the election.