WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has launched an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who posted an incendiary tweet on the eve of a high-profile congressional hearing featuring President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

In the late February tweet in question, Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally, suggested without evidence that Cohen, who is married, had “girlfriends,” prompting some legal observers and Democrats to accuse the Florida Republican of engaging in witness tampering.

In a joint statement, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Ethics Committee said it had received a complaint that Gaetz “sought to threaten, intimidate, harass, or otherwise improperly influence” Cohen ahead of his testimony.

The statement said Gaetz declined to be interviewed about the matter by the committee. As a result, in keeping with committee rules, an investigative subcommittee was established to review the allegations against Gaetz, the statement said.

A spokesman for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

Hours after he posted the tweet, Gaetz apologized and deleted it, insisting that he did not intend to threaten Cohen ahead of his highly anticipated testimony before Congress.

Gaetz later said he had personally apologized to Cohen as well, and he issued a plea to his Twitter followers to “leave the Cohen family alone.”

During his testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen offered damaging information about Trump, including details on how deeply involved he was in a scheme to pay off an adult-film actress who alleged that she had an affair with him.

The Ethics Committee statement released Friday noted that “the mere fact of establishing an Investigative Subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

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