Michael Cohen Sues AG Barr, Claims Retaliation for Plans to Publish Book Critical of Trump

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
July 21, 2020Updated: July 21, 2020

President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen has filed a lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr over claims that he was sent back to prison in retaliation for writing a book that criticized the president.

The lawsuit (pdf) filed on Monday seeks to challenge the decision to place Cohen back into custody at Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, and asks the court to release him back to home confinement.

Cohen—who is serving a three-year sentence for campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress—was released to home confinement in May over concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons.

But he was imprisoned again on July 9 because he “refused the conditions of his home confinement,” the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told The Epoch Times in a statement at the time.

Days before being taken back into custody, Cohen was seen eating at Le Bilboquet, a restaurant in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Photographs published by the New York Post showed the attorney at a table with two women, including his wife, and another man.

Jeffrey Levine, Cohen’s lawyer, defended the evening at the time, telling the newspaper that Cohen “did not violate any of the terms and conditions of his release … and any assertion or suggestion to the contrary would be wholly inaccurate and untrue.”

Cohen, 53, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and law firm Perry Guha LLP, filed the lawsuit on Monday claiming that he was locked up because he refused to stop writing a tell-all book that is critical of Trump with the intention of publishing the book prior to the 2020 presidential election.

“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,” Danya Perry, founding partner of Perry Guha, said in a statement.

The Justice Department and the BOP both did not provide a comment in response to the lawsuit.

While in furlough, Cohen made public statements on Twitter on July 2 that he was finalizing a book about his decade-long experience working as Trump’s lawyer. They said a few days later on July 9, when Cohen visited the U.S. Probation Office in downtown Manhattan in order to transition from furlough to home confinement, federal officials asked him to sign an agreement that prevented him from engaging with the media or prohibited him from posting on social media.

Cohen told the officials that signing the agreement would block him from working on his book and also asked for clarification on what the condition entailed, his lawyers said. He also asked whether the language of the condition could be adjusted in order to better reflect the stated purpose of the condition, which is to “avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to [Mr. Cohen’s] status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community,” his lawyers claimed.

“They stated that they would then send … [the] inquiry regarding the language of the Prior Restraint Provision ‘up the chain of command’ for a decision,” the lawsuit stated.

“Instead, three United States Marshals arrived with handcuffs and shackles and placed them on Mr. Cohen in order to remand him back to prison.”

His lawyers claim Cohen did not at any time say he refused to sign the agreement. They also claim that Cohen also did not “refuse electronic monitoring, or any other condition of home confinement.”

The suit also names the BOP Director Michael Carvajal and Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville James Petrucci as defendants.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.