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On Thursday, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered that President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen be released from prison.
Hellerstein found that the decision to send Cohen back to Otisville prison in New York was in retaliation for the tell-all book Cohen was writing in criticism of Trump.
“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory,” Hellerstein stated.
“And it’s retaliatory 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 was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress, tax fraud and violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women Trump was accused of having an affair with.
However, after completing a year of his sentence, he was released and placed on furlough in May of this year as part of the effort by the Bureau of Prisons to contain the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons.
In July, Cohen met with US probation officers to finish paperwork that would have allowed him to complete the rest of his sentence, confined in home. But during the meeting, US probation officers gave Cohen a copy of a Federal Location Monitoring Agreement form that forbade Cohen’s “engagement of any kind with the media, including print, TV, film, books.”
Prior to this meeting, Cohen had tweeted about the book he was in the process of finishing.
During the meeting, Cohen raised objections to this term and was subsequently arrested and taken back into custody by US Marshals. He was then placed in solitary confinement in Otisville prison.
On Monday, Cohen filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal and James Petrucci, the warden of the Otisville, New York federal prison alleging he was imprisoned again in retaliation for writing a tell-all book against Trump.
“How can I take any other inference than that it’s retaliatory?” Hellerstein asked prosecutors.
Prosecutors said in court filings that the Probation officer, Adam Pakula, who authorized the form containing the terms of home confinement for Cohen, did not know about Cohen’s book.
However, Hellerstein said, “Why would Pakula ask for something like this unless there was a purpose to it, unless there was a retaliatory purpose saying, ‘You toe the line about giving up your First Amendment rights or we will send you to jail.’”
“In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at the terms and conditions of supervised release. I have never seen such a clause,” Hellerstein went on to add.
Earlier this week, prosecutors said in court papers that Cohen was taken into custody again after he became “combative” while discussing his terms of home confinement, actions the probation officers found “unacceptable.”
However, Hellerstein said that Cohen’s behavior was that of “an attorney’s effort to negotiate an agreement, which is very common.”
Justin Long, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, said in a statement of defense, “Any assertion that the decision to remand Michael Cohen to prison was a retaliatory action is patently false.”
According to the statement, Cohen’s terms of home confinement were determined not by the Bureau of Prisons but by the US Probation office, which is run by the courts.
Long further said that Cohen’s objections to the media ban “played no role whatsoever in the decision to remand him to secure custody, nor did his intent to publish a book.”
Cohen’s attorney Danya Perry said that the ruling was “a victory for the First Amendment”, adding that “this principle transcends politics and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails."
Cohen’s book is tentatively titled “Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump” and is set to be released by September, two months before the presidential election.
The book will provide “graphic and unflattering details about the President’s behavior behind closed doors” such as his “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,” according to documents filed by Cohen in support of his lawsuit.
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