Judge orders former Trump lawyer Cohen released from prison, says detention was 'retaliatory'

Cohen was punished 'because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights,' judge says

Updated: July 23, 2020 - 12:57pm

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A federal judge on Thursday ordered former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen re-released from physical confinement in prison, claiming that the attorney's re-detention following a furlough into home confinement was "retaliatory" due to Cohen's intent to write a tell-all book about the Trump administration. 

Cohen, who was released into home confinement in May due to health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was arrested earlier this month after photographs surfaced of him dining in a Manhattan restaurant. Media outlets speculated that he had been detained due to violating the terms of his house arrest by eating out. But his attorney said after the arrest that it stemmed from his client not initially agreeing to refrain from engaging with the media during the remainder of his sentence. 

Cohen was convicted of, and imprisoned on, charges of tax evasion and campaign finance violations. 

His lawyers argued in a filing earlier this week that those terms constituted an "unconstitutional demand," and that their client's return to detention stands as a "plain violation of the Constitution." 

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein agreed with that assessment, ordering that Cohen be released. 

"I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory," Hellerstein said during a Thursday conference call. "And it is 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."

Referring to the media blackout that Cohen was ordered to accept, Hellerstein claimed he had "never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge."

"The First Amendment," Cohen's lawyers argued in their filings, "forbids [the government] from imprisoning Mr. Cohen as punishment for drafting a book that is critical of the President." 

 

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