A federal judge has ordered ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen released from prison by Friday, ruling his return to lockup was retaliation. Cohen had refused to agree not to publish a book about the president while under house arrest.
Cohen was returned to prison earlier this month, after being furloughed in May amid concerns over the Covid-19 outbreak. Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled on Thursday that the decision was “retaliatory.” The day before he was sent back to prison, Cohen refused to agree to not publish a book about President Donald Trump while serving the remainder of his three-year sentence at home, the judge explained in his decision ordering the lawyer released.
“I’ve never seen such a clause, in 21 years in being a judge,” Hellerstein declared during the hearing. “How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?”
While the former presidential fixer was photographed eating at a Manhattan restaurant while under “house arrest,” the American Civil Liberties Union and law firm Perry Guha LLP filed a lawsuit arguing Cohen that was actually being re-imprisoned because he planned to publish a book, calling his incarceration “a brazen assault on the First Amendment.”
While furloughed, Cohen tweeted that he was “close to completion” of a tell-all book about his relationship with Trump, teasing a September publication date. According to the lawsuit, he was presented with a choice: agree not to speak to the media in any form, including via book publication, or stay in jail.
Federal prosecutors denied prison officials even knew about Cohen’s plans to write a book when they drafted the house arrest agreement, instead claiming the lawyer was re-arrested because he became “combative” when presented with the terms. Cohen took issue with requirements that the Bureau of Prisons and Probation Office approve his employment, the ban on associating with convicted felons, the restriction on grocery shopping, and the requirement to submit to electronic monitoring, according to a memo submitted in opposition to the ACLU’s suit, and refused to sign it.
Arguing Cohen should remain in prison, prosecutors also noted he hadn’t produced any evidence he would “suffer irreparable harm as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic if he remains incarcerated” and suggested his attempt to once again secure release was merely “another effort to inject himself into the news cycle.”
Cohen is currently locked up at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, serving a three year sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Congress, tax and bank fraud, and coordinating hush-money payments to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump. His willingness to turn state’s evidence against his former boss has led Trump to repeatedly denounce him as a “rat.”
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