Politics

Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen taken into custody after he balks at media gag

Key Points
  • Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after balking at a demand that he agree not talk to the media, or participate in any film or book, while serving the rest of his criminal sentence in home confinement, his attorney said.
  • Cohen's detention came weeks after his furlough from a federal prison in Orange County, New York, due to concerns about him catching the coronavirus, and a week after he was photographed by a New York newspaper eating at a Manhattan restaurant.
  • Cohen was recently released from prison after raising concerns he could catch the coronavirus.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trumps former personal attorney, arrives at his Park Avenue apartment on May 21, 2020, in New York City.
Johannes Eisele | Getty Images

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, was taken into custody Thursday by U.S. Marshals in New York and sent to jail after balking at a demand that he not talk to the media or write a book while serving the rest of his criminal sentence in home confinement, his attorney said.

"It's totally unnecessary, it's totally outrageous," Cohen's lawyer, Jeffrey Levine, told reporters after his client was detained in federal court in Manhattan, where they had been meeting with probation officials to discuss Cohen's home confinement.

He said that Cohen was "so shaken" by being taken into custody.

Cohen, who is writing a book about his time working for Trump, was taken by marshals to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, a federal jail.

Levine said that Cohen, who is "not well," is at risk of Covid-19 from being held in that facility.

Cohen, who was in the midst of serving a three-year criminal sentence, was furloughed May 21 from federal prison in Orange County, New York, due to concerns about him catching the coronavirus.

He had pleaded guilty in 2018 in federal court in Manhattan to multiple financial crimes, lying to Congress, and to campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump. The president has denied the allegations. Cohen, who entered prison in May 2019, has become a fierce critic of Trump, after years of ardently defending him.

A week ago, he was photographed by a New York newspaper eating at a Manhattan restaurant, raising questions about whether he was complying with his furlough from prison.

The federal Bureau of Prisons in a statement said that, "Michael Cohen refused the conditions of his home confinement and as a result, has been returned to a BOP facility."

Levine said that he and the 53-year-old Cohen met with probation officials expecting that Cohen would be fitted with an ankle monitoring device as part of his home confinement.

During the meeting, Levine said, they were presented with an agreement that would require Cohen to not speak with any reporters, refrain from participating in any film or book project, and avoid posting on social media while serving out the remainder of his three-year criminal sentence.

The agreement also would require Cohen to tell relatives and friends not to post on social media on his behalf.

"I've never seen any language like this in my life that would strip a person of their First Amendment rights to communicate with the media," Levine told reporters waiting outside the courthouse. He noted that federal prison inmates can communicate with journalists while locked up, as Cohen himself had done.

When Levine objected to the language in the agreement, and asked if it could be modified, he and Cohen were asked to wait in the probation office, the attorney said. 

"They never came out to reengage," Levine said.

Instead, U.S. Marshals returned with shackles, and took Cohen into custody at the direction of the Bureau of Prisons under an order for failing to agree to a location monitoring agreement, Levine said.

The lawyer said that claim was "false."

Levine also said he told officials he was willing to agree to the terms presented by probation officials in order to get Cohen released, but was told it was too late.

"He didn't actually refuse to do anything, we were just in the course of trying to resolve this, and BOP just didn't have anything to do with working anything out," Levine said.

While speaking to reporters, Levine displayed Cohen's jacket and belt, which were removed from him when he was taken into custody.

Attorney for Michael Cohen, Jeffrey Levine holds Cohen's belt and jacket up as he tells the media Cohen has been remanded outside Federal Court in the Manhattan Borough of New York City, New York, U.S., July 9, 2020.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Levine said Cohen's detention might be connected to a photo of him that appeared on the front page of the New York Post eating outside of his Manhattan residence.

"It probably has to do with the optics of everything," Levine said of Cohen's detention.

The Post last Friday published photos showing Cohen with his wife Laura, and another couple, at a sidewalk table outside Le Bilboquet, a French restaurant close to his Upper East Side apartment. The photos were taken the evening of July 2, the newspaper reported.

On the same day as he was photographed at the restaurant, Cohen tweeted that a book he is writing is due to be released in early September.

Levine declined to speculate whether Trump played a role in Cohen's detention.

CORRECTION: Michael Cohen was furloughed from a federal prison in Orange County, not Westchester County, New York.

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Michael Cohen to serve remainder of sentence at home over Covid-19 fears