A federal judge on Thursday ordered that Michael Cohen be released from prison, saying the government improperly retaliated against the president’s former fixer and lawyer over his plans to release a tell-all book about Mr. Trump.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said a gag order that banned Cohen from engaging with media and posting on social media as a condition of his release to home confinement was unheard of.
“How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?” Judge Hellerstein said at a hearing on Thursday.
Judge Hellerstein said Cohen and the federal government still have to negotiate any interactions he plans to have with the media.He said Cohen won’t have carte blanche to do as he pleases once he’s released back to home confinement in Manhattan.
“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,” the judge said. “There’s got to be a limit.”
Judge Hellerstein ordered Cohen to be released to home confinement in Manhattan by 2 p.m. on Friday.
Cohen had sued Attorney General William P. Barr earlier this week, alleging that he was targeted because he was writing a book critical of Mr. Trump that was to be released before the November election.
Cohen was taken back into custody earlier this month after he had been released to home confinement in May over coronavirus concerns.U.S. probation officers approached Cohen earlier this month with an “unconstitutional demand” that as a condition of his release to home confinement, he had to agree to a gag order that banned him from engaging with media and posting on social media, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also named Michael Carvajal, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, and James Petrucci, the warden of the federal correctional facility in Otisville, New York, where Cohen is being held.
The book provides “graphic details” about Mr. Trump’s behavior behind closed doors and purports to include “virulently racist” remarks the president has made about Black leaders like former President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela, according to the lawsuit.
Cohen is serving a three-year sentence for crimes that include tax evasion, bank fraud and lying to Congress as well as paying hush money to two women who have alleged affairs with Mr. Trump.
Audrey Strauss, the new acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Cohen was taken back into custody after he was “antagonistic” toward probation officers who had presented the agreement to him that would allow him to complete the rest of his sentence in home confinement.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued on behalf of Cohen, hailed Judge Hellerstein’s decision.
“The First Amendment does not allow the government to block Mr. Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president as a condition of his release to home confinement,” said Danya Perry, a lawyer with the firm Perry Guha LLP.Paul Cassell, a former federal judge, said retaliation over speech is “clearly” not permitted.
“You might put in a sentencing order, hey, you will forfeit any profits or you’re not to consort with previous criminals - different things like that are all standard,” said Mr. Cassell, now a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
“I don’t understand why this is now coming up well after sentencing.”
⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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