Government Claims Cohen Returned to Prison for ‘Antagonistic’ Behavior Toward Probation Officials

NEW YORK (The Washington Post) -
Michael Cohen, Presidents Trump’s former attorney, after being released from federal prison on furlough in May, 2020, in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, had his compassionate released rescinded and was sent back to federal prison because he was “antagonistic” in a meeting with probation officers and not to block him from writing a tell-all book about Trump, government lawyers argued Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan denied that anyone from the executive branch, “let alone a high-level official with any motive to prevent the release” of Cohen’s book, made the decision to send him back.

Cohen has sued the government, alleging that his return to prison was retaliation for writing an unflattering book about the president.

The home confinement agreement Cohen was asked to sign, which included a gag order, was drafted by a probation officer “who had no knowledge that [Cohen] was writing a book,” and the draft was based on a sample he obtained from a colleague, wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Rovner.

Cohen, 53, was arrested two weeks ago “because he was antagonistic during a meeting with probation officers at which he was supposed to sign the agreement that would have allowed him to complete the remaining portion of his criminal sentence in home confinement,” Rovner said in the filing.

Bureau of Prisons officials had previously allowed him to serve the remainder of his 36-month sentence at home. Cohen had documented a medical history of hypertension and respiratory problems, which paved the way for his early release in May. It was among a wave of compassionate releases for inmates across the country who were considered high risk for contracting the novel coronavirus. Cohen’s sentence ends in November 2021.

The government, however, now also questions whether Cohen can document preexisting medical problems.

Cohen’s legal team argued in his lawsuit that he never refused to sign the document. Rather, he had questions about the provision that would have prevented him from writing his book about Trump and Cohen’s experience in the justice system. He also requested a modification of the gag order clause, according to the lawsuit.

But the government said Wednesday that Cohen “took issue with nearly every provision in the agreement relating to the terms and conditions of his home confinement.”

He “objected to the requirement that any employment be approved in advance” by the Bureau of Prisons; that he refrain from associating with “convicted felons”; and that he not go grocery shopping and instead rely on family to do errands for him.

The court papers say Cohen’s lawyer Jeffrey Levine also objected to his client’s being required to wear a GPS monitoring device. Cohen “stated during this discussion with the probation officers that he would not sign the agreement,” Rovner wrote.

Cohen was arrested July 9 at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, where he said he arrived to have the monitoring device put on.

Cohen said he plans to reveal in his book that he heard Trump make anti-Semitic and racist comments, including about his predecessor Barack Obama and the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, “neither of whom [Trump] viewed as real leaders or as worthy of respect by virtue of their race,” according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

The house arrest agreement also said he couldn’t use social media or have someone use it on his behalf.

Cohen began writing the book from the medium-security federal prison in Upstate New York where he was held until his release in May. He was returned to the same facility.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 in two separate criminal cases. In the first, he admitted to campaign finance violations by illegally orchestrating hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign.

In the second case, Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate project Trump and his company pursued while Trump was trying to secure the Republican nomination to become president.