Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein agreed that Lawrence native Michael Cohen’s claim that he was scooped up by federal officials on July 9 and returned to Otisville prison in upstate New York in retaliation for writing a book about President Donald Trump and ordered the former Trump lawyer once again to be released and placed in home confinement.
Cohen was released from prison on July 24 and was home in his Upper East Side apartment by Friday evening.
During the July 23 phone hearing, Hellerstein rebuffed the prosecutors’ contention that the release form was not tailored to forbid Cohen from speaking with the media. The judge said the only “inference” was retaliation as the reason for Cohen being taken back into federal custody and his May 21 furlough release because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it's retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media,” Hellerstein said.
Cohen, 53, was said to have violated the rules of his release that included not using social media. The other violation was for being at Le Bilboquet, a French restaurant in Manhattan on July 2, which is tied to the parameters of the agreement that he cannot leave home without permission. In his decision, Hellerstein, allowed Cohen what is considered a privilege of using social media during his home confinement.
On July 2, seven days before he was taken back into custody, Cohen tweeted “Favorable ruling yesterday by the Court as I am close to completion of my book…” referring to the decision by a New York State Judge Alan D. Scheinkman to lift a restraining order on a book by Maty Trump, on her uncle and the Trump family. That ruling reversed a lower court’s decision. On the same day, Cohen tweeted “… anticipated release date will be late September,” referring to his book on Trump. However, according to sources, Cohen does not have a publisher.
Cohen was serving a three-year prison sentence for breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, among other charges in 2018. He was also ordered to pay $1.39 million in restitution, forfeit $500,000 and pay a $50,000 fine. The guilty pleas to the federal felony charges resulted in his disbarment as a lawyer in New York state. His sentence runs until November 2021.
Serving as Trump’s personal attorney, Cohen arranged six-figure payments to a porn star known as Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, to buy their silence about their one-time affairs with the president.