A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release from prison of President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen by Friday afternoon.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that Cohen was sent back to prison on July 10 in retaliation for failing to agree a day earlier to not to publish a book about Trump as one of multiple conditions for serving the remainder of his three-year prison term on home confinement.
Cohen had been furloughed from prison in late May due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Shortly before being taken into custody he had been posting on social media about his upcoming book, which is going to be critical of Trump.
“I’ve never seen such a clause, in 21 years in being a judge,” Hellerstein said at a Manhattan federal court hearing, where he questioned the condition that Cohen not publish a book while in home confinement.
“How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory? “the judge asked at the hearing, which was held in response to Cohen suing to win his re-release from prison.
During the hearing, the judge was highly skeptical to arguments by a federal prosecutor that Cohen was not locked up in retaliation for the book, or that the condition of not writing a book was not sought for a specific reason.
At one point, when another prosecutor tried to come to the aid of the prosecutor who was answering the judge’s questions, Hellerstein angrily cut him off, reminding him of the rule that only one lawyer argued for each side in a case.
Cohen, who has been in quarantine in the prison in Otisville, N.Y., since his arrival there, will be released by 2 p.m. after begin tested for the coronavirus, and will be driven back to his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by his son, Hellerstein said.
After his release into home confinement, he will be subject to a number of restrictions on his movement and employment and contact with other people.
But the restriction sought by federal Probation officials that he not speak to reporters, post on social media, or publish a book, is likely to be largely gutted.
Cohen’s lawyer and a prosecutor will in coming days negotiate the issue of any restrictions on Cohen dealing with the media. Hellerstein suggested it would be inappropriate for Cohen to host a press conference in his apartment with a large number of reporters to discus his book while at the same time still serving his criminal sentence.
Prosecutors, in defending Cohen being taken into custody earlier this month, on Wednesday said in court papers that he had been locked up after being combative and agumentative during the July 9 meeting with Probation officials about the conditions of his home confinement.
The also said that Cohen refused to sign the conditions, having objected to all of them.
But Hellerstein noted that court filings by both prosecutors and Cohen’s lawyers agree on a key point: that Cohen and his lawyer, after taking issue with at least one of the conditions, about the book, were left in a room along at some time by a Probation officer, and then confronted by Bureau of Prison officials who arrived to take him into custody.
Hellerstein also repeatedly said that Probation officials had not given Cohen a warning that if he did not agree to all the conditions presented to him at a July 9 meeting with his lawyer that he would be sent back to prison.
“Mr. Cohen was never given a chance to say, ‘If this is it, I will sign,’ ” Hellerstein said.
Cohen, 53, pleaded guilty in 2018 to multiple financial crimes, as well as to lying to Congess about an aborted bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
He also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to faciliating hush money payments to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who say they had sex with Trump.
The president denies their claims, but he and his company reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment that the lawyer made to Daniels to keep her quiet about her allegation shortly before the 2016 presidential election.