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Judge Orders Michael Cohen To Be Released From Prison

Bloomberg Michael Cohen

Cohen, shown here in May, had previously been granted home due to coronavirus concerns. But he was imprisoned again this month after officials said he refused the conditions of his home confinement, including by writing his book.

Cohen has been in solitary confinement in a federal prison in Otisville, New York, about 70 miles northwest of New York City.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein said he had never in his 21 years on the bench seen a provision barring a prisoner from speaking to the media.

"I make the finding that the objective of transferring Mr. Cohen from home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it's retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book", he said. "How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory?".

Cohen is to be released no later than 2 p.m. Friday, and must take a COVID-19 test before his release.

Cohen's attorney, Danya Perry, said in a statement that Hellerstein's order was "a victory for the First Amendment" and showed that the government can not block a book critical of the president as a condition of release to home confinement.

This week, Cohen had sued US Attorney General William Barr and the prison bureau director over the so-called "gag order".

While furloughed, Cohen tweeted that he was "close to completion" of a tell-all book about his relationship with Trump, teasing a September publication date.

Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump, was sentenced in 2018 for directing hush payments to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had affairs with Trump.

Adam Pakula, the probation officer who drafted Cohen's agreement, said he based it on terms for the supervision of high-profile inmates that he got from a fellow officer, including the provision on media contact.

Lawyers for Cohen, including the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit saying the conditions violated his first amendment rights.

During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Rovner said that Cohen and his attorney had also questioned or objected to other provisions in the agreement, including pre-employment approval and electronic monitoring.

He will now serve the remainder of his three-year sentence from home. Hellerstein said Cohen and his lawyer were merely negotiating an agreement. Trump has denied having the encounters.

Hellerstein, in a 36-minute tele-hearing Thursday, found that returning Cohen from home confinement to jail was "retaliatory", that it punished Cohen "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".