Recently, former longtime Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen was returned to prison after getting released on home confinement amidst concerns about the spread of the Coronavirus in prisons. A troubling detail of the case quickly emerged — apparently, Cohen was taken back into custody after objecting to a condition of his home confinement that would have banned him from publishing a book, which he’s openly planned to do covering his experiences working for Trump. Cohen’s legal team promptly requested his re-release and claimed that authorities’ actions were retaliation for Cohen’s book-publishing plans. A federal judge agreed — on Thursday, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that Cohen would be freed by the following afternoon.
In the description of the New York Daily News, Hellerstein “fumed at a Justice Department attorney who struggled to explain why Cohen was returned into custody earlier this month.” Specifically, discussing the government’s attempt to ban Cohen from speaking to the media — including through writing a book — Hellerstein said:
‘I’ve never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at terms of supervised release. Why would the Bureau of Prisons ask for something like this… unless there was a retaliatory purpose?.. I make the finding that the purpose 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.’
It should be troubling to Americans that the Department of Justice could be used to punitively throw an opponent of the president in prison on account of their opposition to the president.
The mechanisms of the Department of Justice have repeatedly been used to support allies of the president who’ve wound up with criminal cases against them. For instance, the Department of Justice, as led by the Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr, recently moved to drop the government’s case against Trump ally Michael Flynn, who’d pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his communications with a Russian ambassador. In contrast to Flynn, Cohen has fallen out with the president, who has mocked him as a “rat” for trying to cooperate with authorities.