Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer has been released after a judge ruled that he had been sent back to prison from home confinement as retaliation for his plan to release a book critical of the president before November’s election.
Michael Cohen walked out of a federal prison in New York on Friday afternoon, a day after US District Judge Alvin K Hellerstein ruled that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was ordered back to prison on July 9.
Probation authorities said Mr Cohen was sent back to prison because he refused to sign a form banning him from publishing the book or communicating with the media or public, Judge Hellerstein said during a telephone conference.
Mr Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, among other crimes.
The campaign finance charges stemmed from his efforts to arrange payouts during the 2016 presidential race to keep the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal from making public claims of extramarital affairs with President Trump – who has denied the affairs.
Mr Cohen was released to home confinement in his New York City apartment in May as authorities tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus in federal prisons.
Taking him back to the federal prison camp in Otisville, New York, earlier this month was clearly meant to punish him for his plan to publish his book, titled, “Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump,” Judge Hellerstein said.
“How can I take any other inference than that it’s retaliatory?” Judge Hellerstein asked prosecutors, who insisted in court papers and again on Thursday that Probation Department officers did not know about the book when they wrote a provision of home confinement that severely restricted Cohen’s public communications.
“I’ve never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at terms of supervised release,” the judge said.
“Why would the Bureau of Prisons ask for something like this … unless there was a retaliatory purpose?”
Mr Cohen, 53, had sued federal prison officials and US Attorney General William Barr on Monday, saying he was ordered back to prison because of the book.
The Bureau of Prisons responded after Judge Hellerstein’s ruling on Thursday, saying any assertion that the reimprisonment of Mr Cohen “was a retaliatory action is patently false”.
It said the terms of his home confinement were determined by the US Probation Office, which is run by the courts, rather than the bureau.