Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted on Tuesday without offering any evidence that the world is "about to learn a lot" about President Donald Trump's former lawyer and that Cohen should talk to his wife ahead of his testimony Wednesday.
"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..." the tweet said. It was not clear what prompted the allegation.
Gaetz, a Trump ally, is not a member of the committee questioning Cohen. Still, the tweet was extraordinary because his remarks appeared to be threatening or intimidating a witness on the eve of a highly anticipated public hearing. Gaetz later apologized and said he was deleting the tweet.
Cohen is due to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about payments to buy the silence of women who allege they had sex with Trump ahead of the 2016 election. His testimony is expected to be sharply critical of Trump, alleging lying, cheating and criminal behavior.
"We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz's despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct," Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in a statement.
Asked whether his tweet to Cohen should be perceived as a threat, Gaetz responded: "Absolutely not." "We're witness testing, not witness tampering, and when witnesses come before Congress their truthfulness and veracity are in question, and we have the opportunity to test them," he told reporters outside his office.
Later Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted that the Ethics Committee ought to "vigilantly monitor" House members' "comments made on social media or in the press (that) can adversely affect the ability of House committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties."
In response, Gaetz said that he also wanted to get to the truth and that he didn't mean for his tweet to imply a threat. "While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did," Gaetz tweeted. "I'm deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I'm sorry."
Trump's fixer-turned-foe was testifying to the Senate intelligence committee behind closed doors on Tuesday when Gaetz fired off his initial tweet, drawing immediate criticism from fellow lawmakers. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., called on the House Ethics Committee to launch an investigation for what he called a "grossly unethical and probably illegal" attempt to intimidate a witness.
Cohen had previously delayed his public testimony, blaming threats from Trump and the president's attorney-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, and citing his ongoing cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Cohen, who was a key power player in the Trump Organization for more than a decade and a fixture in Trump's political life, is a central figure in the Mueller investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign. He also played a pivotal role in buying the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who both alleged they had sex with Trump. The president has denied their claims.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations connected to the payments and lying to Congress. Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to make the payments during the campaign. He's scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.