Law & the Courts

Michael Cohen To Be Released From Prison to Home Confinement, Judge Orders

Michael Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment after being released from federal prison in New York, May 21, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Michael Cohen will be released to home confinement after a federal judge ruled Thursday that the government had returned the president’s former personal attorney to prison earlier this month in retaliation for his plans to write a tell-all memoir about Trump.

“The purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it’s 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 on social media and others,” Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled during a telephonic hearing.

The judge referenced the first clause in Cohen’s probation agreement proposed by the government, which would limit his ability to make public pronouncements, saying ““I’ve never seen such a clause, in 21 years of being a judge.”

Cohen, 53, was released on home arrest in May after having been sentenced to three years in federal prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to numerous counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. He was remanded on July 9 and has been held in solitary confinement at federal prison in Otisville, New York ever since. He later sued Attorney General William Barr, claiming he was being punished for his desire to publish a book about President Trump.

Cohen will be released by 2 p.m. on Friday after receiving a coronavirus test. Prosecutors and the former fixer will have one week to negotiate the terms of his involvement with the media as part of his release.

“Just as you wouldn’t have a press conference from a jail cell, you shouldn’t be able to have a press conference from your home,” Hellerstein said. “You can communicate, you can discuss, you can post on social media, but you can’t make a confinement into a free person. You can’t make a person confined in jail or at home into totally free person. There’s got to be a limit.”

However, the Justice Department defend its actions on Wednesday, saying that it hadn’t been trying to stifle Cohen’s free speech.

“Petitioner’s contention that he was not placed on home confinement on July 9, 2020, in retaliation for a book that he is planning to publish that is critical of the president of the United States is not supported by the evidence,” acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss told the court. 

“The evidence instead shows that the petitioner, who had been released from prison on furlough, was remanded into custody on July 9, 2020, because 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.”

Cohen’s attorney called the judge’s order a “victory for the First Amendment.”

The ruling confirms “that the government cannot block Mr. Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president as a condition of his release to home confinement,” Danya Perry, who argued on behalf of Cohen at the hearing, said in a statement. “This principle transcends politics and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails.”

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