Michael Cohen Ordered Released From Prison by U.S. Judge
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits his home in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg)

Michael Cohen Ordered Released From Prison by U.S. Judge

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President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was ordered freed from prison to home confinement by a U.S. judge who ruled Cohen had been abruptly returned to jail in retaliation over a planned book criticizing his ex-boss.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to crimes tied to his work for Trump, sued the government on Monday alleging his deal to serve the rest of his three-year term at home due to the coronavirus pandemic was illegally withdrawn because he refused to sign away his right to communicate with the media, including through books.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein on Thursday ordered the Justice Department to have Cohen released from a federal lockup -- where he’s being quarantined in solitary confinement -- by Friday at 2 p.m. after he receives a test for Covid-19.

The ruling by Hellerstein, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, is another blow to Trump, whose administration unsuccessfully sued last month to block a tell-all book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Trump’s brother, Robert, also lost a legal effort to block a damning memoir by their niece, Mary Trump.

Hellerstein repeatedly rejected the government’s claim that Cohen had been returned to prison because he refused to sign the deal outlining his restrictions under home confinement. And the judge balked at the Justice Department’s claim that the ban on communicating with the press was added innocently by a probation official who got the language from a colleague.

‘Toe The Line’

“In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at terms of supervised release, I’ve never seen such a clause,” Hellerstein said of the provision. It had the clear effect of telling Cohen to “toe the line or we’ll send you to jail and call you intransigent,” the judge said.

Hellerstein said Cohen and his lawyer did nothing wrong by questioning the provisions and seeking to negotiate more favorable terms at the July 9 meeting with probation officials. Such negotiations “are very common,” the judge said.

The public affairs office for the Bureau or Prisons pushed back on the judge’s findings on Thursday evening, saying in a statement that the U.S. Courts system dictated the disputed terms of Cohen’s home confinement - not the Justice Department. The office also doubled down on its claim that Cohen was improperly combative.

“Mr. Cohen refused to agree to the terms of the program, specifically electronic monitoring,” the bureau said. “In addition, he was argumentative, was attempting to dictate the conditions of his monitoring, including conditions relating to self-employment, access to media, use of social media and other accountability measures.”

The suit, filed in Manhattan with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Attorney General William Barr and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal of using a false justification to lock Cohen up again and violating his First Amendment right to free speech.

“The First Amendment does not allow the government to block Mr. Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president as a condition of his release to home confinement,” his lawyer, Danya Perry, said in a statement. “This principle transcends politics.”

Justice Department lawyers said at the hearing that they would work with Cohen’s attorney to iron out details of his home-confinement agreement in a way that doesn’t violate the First Amendment. The Justice Department didn’t have an immediate comment on the ruling.

Cohen is planning a September book release. In a court filing, he said the memoir will include “previously unknown anecdotes and details about Mr. Trump’s bad behavior behind closed doors.” He’s been drafting the manuscript since at least the start of his incarceration last year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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