Michael Cohen was only thrown back into prison because he wrote a damaging tell-all book about President Trump, a federal judge found on Thursday.
Therefore the judge ordered Trump’s former lawyer and fixer to be released by 2 p.m. Friday.
The ruling marks the latest black eye for Trump’s Department of Justice, which has been widely accused of warping the criminal justice system to protect Trump’s friends and attack his enemies. Cohen served for years as one of Trump’s closest aides before a painful falling out with his former boss, and claimed that Trump’s officials retaliated against him after word of his still-unpublished book got out. On Thursday, the judge declared that Cohen is right.
Cohen was sent back to prison in July from a furlough after refusing to sign an agreement that included a provision he not publish any books. But that provision was highly unusual, and looks like pure payback by Trump’s officials over the recent reports about Cohen’s forthcoming book, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York said.
Cohen’s attorneys have said the book will make Trump look like a conman and a racist, and that the book includes passages that describe Trump using racial slurs against former President Barack Obama, and anti-Semitic language.
During a contentious and brief teleconference hearing, Judge Hellerstein aggressively questioned the federal prosecutors who were taking the position that Cohen shouldn’t be released.
The term sheet Cohen was asked to sign appeared nothing like the standard furlough release documents, and the clause demanding Cohen not write a book about Trump looked like pure and simple retaliation over the unpublished book, the judge said.
“In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people, and looking at the terms of sentencing people and home release, I’ve never seen such a clause,” Hellerstein thundered at the prosecutors. “How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?”
When one government lawyer attempted to step in to appease the judge, he snapped: “You keep quiet.”
Judge Hellerstein told the hearing he plans to order Cohen to be released by 2 pm on Friday. And he said that the language of the document prison officials had asked Cohen to sign must be renegotiated in terms that are “consistent with the First Amendment” protections of free speech.
In other words, the Bureau of Prisons won’t be allowed to force Cohen to agree not to publish his book about Trump in order to keep out of prison.
Cohen began serving a three-year prison sentence last year in a facility in Otisville, New York, after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations connected with payoffs to women who claim they slept with Trump, along with other financial crimes and lying to Congress.
He was released in May as part of a DOJ program to send some convicts to home confinement as the coronavirus pandemic spreads through America’s prison system.
Cohen said he was unexpectedly detained and sent back to prison during what he had expected to be a routine meeting with parole officials when they demanded he sign papers agreeing not to publish his book.
His book about Trump is going to be “unfavorable,” his attorneys wrote in one filing to the court.
“Mr. Cohen’s book describes Mr. Cohen’s firsthand experiences with Mr. Trump, and it provides graphic details about the President’s behavior behind closed doors,” the briefing states. “For example, 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 book will rely upon and publish numerous previously unknown anecdotes, supported by documentary evidence.”
Cover: Michael Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment, Thursday, May 21, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)