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Local News

Judge Orders the Release of Michael Cohen, Saying His Return to Prison Was Retaliation

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Judge Orders the Release of Michael Cohen, Saying His Return to Prison Was Retaliation

2020-07-23 21:02:27

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Michael Cohen (Image source: Screenshot)

At this point it seems as though drama will always follow Michael Cohen around. Of course, as the former attorney to Donald Trump, drama comes as part of the package. Yet, he still has more than his fair share of drama.

This drama centers around the former attorney's early release from prison. On Thursday a federal judge ordered his release from prison and back to home confinement. He said that the Justice Department ordering him back to prison was retaliation for writing a book about the president while in prison.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said Cohen must be released by 2 p.m. on Friday, provided he has been tested for COVID-19 and is negative. Since he was ordered back to prison, he has been in solitary at the Otisville, New York, federal prison.

Cohen and his attorneys argued that throwing him back in prison was the result of his plans to write a tell-all book about Trump and the former attorney's experience in the justice system. He claimed it would give examples of the president making racist and anti-Semitic comments. They further alleged that a gag order that was part of the conditions for his release was a violation of his constitutional rights.

"I make the finding that 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 to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others," said Hellerstein in his ruling.

Cohen turned on Trump in 2018 and took a plea deal, admitting to several crimes, including tax evasion, making false statements, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress. Some of the charges stem from aiding Trump in making hush-money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with him to assure Trump would be elected in 2016.

He received a three-year prison sentence, though he tried to delay his entry by claiming he had more information about Trump. He was denied and sent to prison, but it appears now that he has found another way to get the information to the public.

Because of concerns of coronavirus spreading in the federal prison system, Cohen was released to home confinement in Manhattan in May. Hellerstein said, though, that the DOJ's terms for him to remain at home were unheard of. These included barring him from writing the book, using social media, and discussing the book.

"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," said the judge.

Hellerstein castigated the defense of the DOJ that Cohen was "combative" in a discussion about the conditions for his release. A probation officer, Adam Pekula, said in an affidavit that he was not aware that Cohen was writing a book at the time he presented him with the agreement.

Pekula claimed Cohen objected to other terms in the agreement, including the need for pre-approval to find a job and that he would be barred from communicating with other felons. He also said the former attorney objected to not being able to do his own grocery shopping.

He said he shared Cohen's concerns and behavior with the Bureau of Prisons officials, and it was determined that he needed to be remanded.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Rovner told the court that Cohen's attorney, Jeffrey Levine, tried to negotiate with Pekula regarding the requirement of wearing an ankle monitor, seeing it as a condition reserved for "violent" criminals. The judge didn't see anything wrong with the attorney trying to negotiate for his client, and the attempt to debate the terms shouldn't have been a reason to send him back to prison.

"What's an attorney for if he is not going to negotiate an agreement with his client?" asked the judge 

One of Cohen's attorneys, Danya Perry, referred to the ruling as a victory for the First Amendment. "This principle transcends politics, and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails," she said.

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