Donald Trump’s former fixer turned critic Michael Cohen sued the former president, ex-Attorney General Bill Barr and other members of the previous administration on Thursday for sending him back to prison last year for 16 days of solitary confinement in alleged retaliation for writing a book.
During a teleconference in July 2020, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that the Trump administration Department of Justice’s action trampled upon Cohen’s First Amendment rights.
“I make the finding that 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 to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others,” Hellerstein said last year.
Hellerstein had been referring to a condition found on the Federal Location Monitoring Program Participant Agreement that authorities urged Cohen to sign in return for his release amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As reproduced in Cohen’s lawsuit, it included the following clause in its first provision:
“No engagement of any kind with of the media, including print, TV, film, books, or any other form of media/news. Prohibition from all social media platforms. No posting on social media and a requirement that you communicate with friends and family to exercise discretion in not posting on your behalf or posting any information about you. The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community.”
When Cohen questioned the language, the government sent him back to a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y.. Cohen successfully challenged that remand in a lawsuit. Now, Cohen seeks civil punitive damages over the affair, spread over seven alleged civil rights violations for retaliation, false imprisonment and other torts.
“We’re looking forward to the defendants answering for their violations of Mr. Cohen’s civil rights,” his attorney Andrew Laufer told Law&Crime in a direct message.
Cohen had been sentenced to three years imprisonment following his guilty pleas to fraud and other offenses stemming from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. A subset of those offenses related to hush money payments Cohen made to two women—adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal—on behalf of “Individual-1,” prosecutors’ thinly veiled pseudonym for Trump.
Cohen served a little more than a year of that sentence behind bars in Otisville before winning a compassionate release to avoid the deadly spread of the pandemic. His return trip to the facility was brief—lasting between July 9, 2020 and July 23, 2o20—before Judge Hellerstein freed him.
But Cohen claims that this brief stint put him in grave peril.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this remand placed Mr. Cohen’s life in danger,” his complaint states.
He alleges the entire episode regarding the book was a Trump vendetta.
“Defendant Trump issued specific directives and guidance to his co-defendants that governed the treatment of plaintiff and others who he believed were his political enemies,” the lawsuit alleges. “At his direction, plaintiff was remanded back to prison and subjected to great indignities when he was unlawfully incarcerated and held in solitary confinement.”
A lawyer for Trump didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Read the complaint, below:
[Image via Eduardo Munoz Alvarez at AFP via Getty Images]
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