A Manhattan federal judge on Thursday ordered Michael Cohen to be released from prison this week after finding that authorities “retaliated” against the former Trump lawyer for writing a tell-all book about the president.
“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory,” U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein stated Thursday, adding that “it’s retaliation because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others.”
Cohen, who was sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about hush-money payments and plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, was allowed in May to serve the remainder of his time behind bars in home confinement due to concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But on July 9, he was ordered back to prison after questioning an agreement that barred him from publishing a tell-all book, his legal team said. The order prompted Cohen to sue Attorney General William Barr and the Bureau of Prisons director last week.
During a virtual hearing, Hellerstein ruled that Cohen could return to home confinement without restrictions based on his First Amendment rights. The judge agreed with Cohen’s legal team that the former Trump lawyer was sent back to prison as an act of “retaliation” over his upcoming book.
Hellerstein said that during his 21 years on the bench, he had never “seen such a clause,” adding, “How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?”
Cohen will be released to home confinement at his Upper East Side home at 2 p.m. on Friday after he is tested for the coronavirus. His son has been tasked with bringing him home. While Cohen will be allowed to serve his time at home, the judge stressed that he will still have a number of restrictions on his movements and future employment.
The decision to allow Cohen to return home comes just one day after prosecutors alleged Cohen was “combative” during a July 9 meeting—and that’s what landed him back at Otisville Federal Correction Institution.
“He 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,” prosecutors wrote in a Wednesday court filing, adding that Cohen “took issue with nearly every provision in the agreement.”
Under that agreement, Cohen could have “no engagement of any kind with the media, including print, tv, film, books, or any other form of media/news.” Prosecutors said in a filing that he is “free to work on his book while incarcerated.” In Cohen’s lawsuit, the former Trumpkin said his “graphic” book would show “Trump’s personality and proclivities, his private and professional affairs, and his personal and business ethics.”
Cohen’s lawyers argued that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons violated the former Trump lawyer’s First Amendment rights by throwing him back in prison. He is “currently imprisoned in solitary confinement because he is drafting a book manuscript that is critical of the President of the United States—and because he recently made public that he intends to publish this book shortly before the upcoming election,” they said.
His lawyers sought a temporary restraining order allowing for Cohen’s release, which Hellerstein agreed to on Thursday. During the hearing, Hellerstein also stressed he was highly skeptical of the prosecution’s argument that Cohen was not locked up for his book.
Despite largely siding with Cohen’s defense team, Hellerstein did say that both sides need to work together in the coming days to negotiate restrictions on the former Trump lawyer’s relationship with the media.