Fears of COVID-19 sent President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen home from prison in May of this year — but when Cohen, in the words of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “refused the conditions of his home confinement” at a hearing earlier this month, the 53-year-old lawyer was put back behind bars. Now, Cohen is fighting to go home.
The Washington Examiner reported Tuesday that Cohen has filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Bill Barr alleging that he was thrown back in prison “in retaliation for his protected speech, including drafting a book manuscript that is critical of the President.”
Cohen’s legal team, which according to the Examiner includes the law firm Perry Guha LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says in the suit that Cohen was imprisoned after “recently making public his intention to publish that book soon, shortly before the upcoming election.”
In the suit, Cohen’s team alleges the 53-year-old has been placed in solitary confinement at the prison. Cohen’s lawyers also allege that “approximately one-half of the prisoners” at the facility where Cohen is being held “have become infected with COVID-19,” noting that Cohen has “high co-morbidity risk factors” for the disease, “including severe hypertension and a history of respiratory compromise.”
But that’s not the only reason the ACLU and others believe Cohen should be sent home.
“Respondents’ imprisonment of Mr. Cohen violates the Constitution,” the suit against Barr reads in part. “The First Amendment forbids Respondents from imprisoning Mr. Cohen in retaliation for drafting a book about the President and for seeking to publish that book soon—an intention he expressed publicly in recent weeks and also privately to Respondents when presented with the categorical prior restraint on his speech. This Court should grant the Petition and order Mr. Cohen’s immediate release to home confinement.”
Arguments from the ACLU
In a statement put out by the ACLU, attorney Danya Perry remarked: “This case is about a brazen assault on the First Amendment and the rule of law.
“We trust that our Constitution will prevail and that free speech will continue to be protected, for our client and for all others by extension,” she added.
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said “the government cannot imprison Michael Cohen for writing a book about President Trump,” adding:
The gag order that the government sought to impose on Mr. Cohen was an unconstitutional prior restraint, and his continued imprisonment is part of a dangerous pattern of retaliation against Trump critics.
According to CBS News, Cohen has so far served one of three years of his sentence on charges of campaign finance violations “and lying to Congress, among other crimes.” CBS further reported:
Cohen’s campaign finance charges related to his efforts to arrange payouts during the 2016 presidential race to keep the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal from airing claims of extramarital affairs with Mr. Trump. [Trump] has denied the affairs.
Knowing the context of his imprisonment, it’s hardly surprising that Cohen wants out so he can release a tell-all book on his former boss. According to CBS, the lawsuit says Cohen’s manuscript breaks down the president’s “personality and proclivities, his private and professional affairs, and his personal and business ethics.” The book isn’t finished being written yet, however.
The White House, for its part, has not responded to requests for comment about Cohen’s lawsuit, The Hill reported, nor has Barr or his Department of Justice.