Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and self-described “fixer”, will be released from prison and returned to home confinement after a judge ruled his detention was retaliatory.
Cohen was released from prison in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, and later instructed to a sign an agreement for home confinement on the condition that he would not speak to the media.
He was ordered back to jail on 9 July after it was revealed that he was working on a book about the president. Ordering his release to home detention again, Judge Alvin Hellerstein said he had never in his 21 years on the bench seen a provision barring a prisoner from speaking to the media.
“How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?” the judge said.
“He should be released by 2 p.m. to his son.” Cohen’s lawyers had said in court papers the US Bureau of Prisons violated his First Amendment rights to free speech.
“Michael Cohen 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,” Cohen’s lawyers, who include attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in seeking an order for his immediate release.
Lawyers for the government told the judge that Cohen was “antagonistic” during the 9 July meeting with probation officers. Mr Hellerstein said Cohen and his lawyer were merely negotiating an agreement.
Cohen on 9 July had taken issue with nearly every provision of an agreement that would have let him finish his sentence at home, prosecutors said. Among the provisions were the media ban, electronic monitoring and approval for employment.
Jon Gustin, a Federal Bureau of Prisons official, said in a court filing that he made the decision to send Cohen back to prison.
“In my view, Cohen’s behavior and, in particular, his refusal to sign the conditions of home confinement was unacceptable and undermined his suitability for placement on home confinement,” Mr Gustin wrote.
Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Mr Trump, was sentenced in 2018 for directing hush payments to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had affairs with Mr Trump. The president has denied having the encounters.
Cohen served a year of his three-year sentence before being released in May. In a friend-of-the-court filing, 10 law professors said the government cannot jail a critic for exercising his right to free speech under the US Constitution.
The professors noted the Trump administration’s “disparate treatment of its allies and prior attempts to silence or retaliate against critics of the President.”