Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will be re-released from prison to home confinement on Friday, after a federal judge ruled that he was sent back to jail earlier this month as an act of retaliation over his plans to publish an unflattering book about the president.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said that Cohen’s abrupt reincarceration was “retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights.”
He ordered that Cohen be returned to his home, where he will be under electronic surveillance to complete the remainder of his term.
Cohen has said that he plans to publish his tell all book at the end of September. Cohen will be released at 2 PM ET after he undergoes a coronavirus test.
Hellerstein said that the government’s decision to reincarcerate Cohen was “retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants.”
The judge left it up to Cohen’s attorneys and lawyers for the government to negotiate the exact language of a condition of his release that restricted his interaction with the media. But Hellerstein made clear that the condition must be in accordance with the First Amendment. The stated purpose of the condition is that Cohen not “glamorize” his home confinement, as he is still serving his sentence.
Cohen has been serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations, the latter related to payments made to women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump. The president has denied those claims.
In May, Cohen was released early as part of a program to send non-violent inmates back to their homes because of the concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
In a meeting on July 9 with Bureau of Prisons officials to discuss the terms of his home confinement and electronic monitoring, Cohen was instead sent back to prison. His attorney said that his reincarceration came abruptly, after they raised questions about one of the conditions in an agreement he was to sign: That he not talk to the media, including the publication of a book. During the hearing, Hellerstein said that he had never heard of such a provision that would so severely restrict First Amendment rights as a condition of home confinement.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this week, the ACLU and Cohen’s private counsel claimed that he was sent back to prison because of his plans to publish an “unflattering” book about his former boss Donald Trump.
The lawsuit was filed against Attorney General William Barr, Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal, and James Petrucci, warden of the federal prison in Otisville, NY, where Cohen is in solitary confinement.
Dayna Perry of Perry Guha LLP, who argued on behalf of Cohen at Thursday’s hearing, said, “This order is a victory for the First Amendment and we appreciate the Judge’s ruling confirming that the government cannot block Mr. Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president as a condition of his release to home confinement. This principle transcends politics and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails.”
On social media, Cohen had teased plans to publish the book before the election, having worked on it while he was in Otisville and then when he was initially released.
In legal filings, his attorneys said that the book will be called Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump.
Cohen said that the tome “will provide graphic and unflattering details about the President’s behavior behind closed doors. For example, the manuscript describes the president’s pointedly anti-Semitic remarks and virulently racist remarks against such Black leaders as President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela, neither of whom he viewed as real leaders or as worthy of respect by virtue of their race. The book will rely upon and publish numerous personal anecdotes, many of which will be supported by my collection of documentary evidence.”
The Justice Department denied claims that Cohen’s reincarceration was related to plans to publish the book.
Rather, they said that at the July 9 meeting, Cohen was “was antagonistic during a meeting with probation officers at which he was supposed to sign the agreement that would have allowed him to complete the remaining portion of his criminal sentence in home confinement.”
The DOJ said that “the decision to remand [Cohen] back to prison was instigated by the probation officers who observed [his] behavior at the meeting, and was ultimately made by a [Bureau of Prisons] employee who had no knowledge that [Cohen] was writing a book.”