A federal judge on Thursday ordered that Michael D. Cohen be released into home confinement after finding that federal officials had returned him to prison in retaliation for his plans to write a tell-all memoir about President Trump.
The judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court, said Mr. Cohen was sent back to prison this month after several weeks of medical furlough because of his desire to publish a book before the election about his years as Mr. Trump's personal lawyer and fixer.
"I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory," the judge said. "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."
The judge ordered that Mr. Cohen be released from prison on Friday to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement at his Manhattan apartment.
Mr. Cohen had sued U.S. officials on Monday night, claiming federal officials sent him back into custody to prevent him from completing the book. In court papers, he said the book would paint Mr. Trump as a racist and offer revealing details about "the president's behavior behind closed doors."
E. Danya Perry, one of Mr. Cohen's lawyers, said the judge had confirmed that the government could not block Mr. Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president. "This order is a victory for the First Amendment," she said. "This principle transcends politics and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails."
Judge Hellerstein was appointed to the bench in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.
The court hearing in Manhattan on Thursday was the latest chapter in a long-running saga. Mr. Cohen, a legal bulldog who once bragged he would take a bullet for Mr. Trump, pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and other crimes.
As he entered his plea, Mr. Cohen pointed the finger at the president, telling the court that Mr. Trump had directed him during the 2016 election to arrange hush money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. The president has denied those allegations.
In May, Mr. Cohen, 53, who was sentenced to three years, was allowed to leave a minimum-security prison camp in Otisville, N.Y., and go home as part of an effort by the Bureau of Prisons to curb the spread of coronavirus in the federal prison system.
Mr. Cohen's lawyers had argued that his health conditions, including severe hypertension and a history of respiratory problems, put him at risk if he remained in prison.
But on July 9, prisons officials abruptly returned Mr. Cohen to prison after he balked at signing an agreement outlining the terms of his release. Those terms included a provision that would have prevented him from publishing a book, his suit said.
In court papers filed this week, prisons officials deniedMr. Cohen was sent back to prison because of his book; rather, they said, he had been "combative" and "defiant" when they met to discuss the agreement, and they considered such behavior to be "unacceptable."
In his suit, Mr. Cohen claimed that he never hid the fact that he was writing a book about Mr. Trump. He noted that he spent his mornings working on the manuscript "in plain sight" in the prison's law library, and said he also discussed the project openly with prison officials, staff members and even other inmates.
According to the suit, the book will give a glimpse into Mr. Cohen's "firsthand experiences with Mr. Trump" and offer "graphic details about the president's behavior behind closed doors."
"The narrative describes pointedly certain anti-Semitic remarks against prominent Jewish people and virulently racist remarks against such Black leaders as President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela," the lawsuit says.
The manuscript — tentatively titled "Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump" — is only the latest book to emerge in recent weeks promising detailed and critical revelations about the president's personal and professional life. Mr. Cohen's suit contends that Mr. Trump and his supporters have sought to derail the publication of his book like the others.
In June, the Justice Department asked a judge to delay the release of "The Room Where it Happened," a memoir by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser who, among other things, confirmed accusations at the heart of the Democratic impeachment case over the president's dealings with Ukraine. The judge ultimately denied the request.
On the same day that Mr. Bolton's book was published, Mr. Trump's younger brother, Robert S. Trump, filed a suit seeking to stop the publication of a family tell-all written by their niece, Mary L. Trump.
After a few weeks of whirlwind litigation, the judge in that case sided with Ms. Trump, allowing her to publish her memoir, which accused Mr. Trump of embracing cheating "as a way of life" and of paying someone to take his college entrance exams.
Benjamin Weiser, New York Times, July 23, 2020
July 23, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. Great to have Trump lose this case against Michael Cohen on First Amendment grounds! Trump thinks he is above the law but he is not. 103 days to November 3. Check your registration! Ask for an absentee or mail in ballot. #DumpTrump #BlueBiden2020