Federal prosecutors on Wednesday strongly denied that Michael Cohen was sent back to prison over a dispute about whether he could publish a critical book about his former legal client, President Donald Trump, while serving the rest of his criminal sentence in home confinement.
Instead, prosecutors said in a new court filing, Cohen was taken into custody on July 9 after becoming "antagonistic" and argumentative at a meeting with U.S. probation officials and refusing to agree with a number of other conditions, including being subject to electronic monitoring.
During that meeting, Cohen said he was "writing a book 'no matter what happens'" and also told a probation officer to say hello to "Mr. Barr," meaning U.S. Attorney General William Barr, according to the prosecutors' filing.
Court documents state that the decision to take Cohen into custody was "instigated by the probation officers who observed [Cohen's] behavior at the meeting, and was ultimately made by a [Bureau of Prisons] employee who had no knowledge that Petitioner was writing a book." The filing includes affidavits to that effect from those officials.
Cohen has said he is writing a book about Trump, whom he served for years as a lawyer and fixer. Prosecutors said in their filing that he is "free to work on his book while incarcerated."
The filing came a day before a judge in federal court in Manhattan is set to hold a hearing on Cohen's emergency request that he be re-released from the federal prison in Otisville, where he has been for the past two weeks.
Cohen, 53, pleaded guilty in 2018 to financial crimes, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations related to facilitating hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had sex with Trump, who denies their accounts.
Cohen was in the middle of serving a three-year prison term when he was furloughed in late May over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
He was meeting with his lawyer and probation officials on July 9 about the terms of his home confinement when he was abruptly taken into custody.
Cohen's lawyer Jeffrey Levine has said that he was taken into custody after balking at a provision that he not speak with reporters or publish a book during his period of home confinement.
Levine said that Cohen did not refuse to sign the provision but that the issue had been set aside while they discussed other aspects of the probation monitoring agreement.
Levine said that when Bureau of Prison staff showed up during a break in the meeting to detain Cohen, he and Cohen both said Cohen would agree to the provision in order to avoid being sent back to prison.
Levin and Cohen's other attorneys, who this week filed a lawsuit seeking his release from prison, have said that Cohen is at particular risk from Covid-19 because of preexisting health issues.
Prosecutors, in their reply to that suit Wednesday, wrote that Cohen's "contention that he was not placed on home confinement on July 9, 2020, in retaliation for a book that he is planning to publish that is critical of the President of the United States is not supported by the evidence."
"Cohen and his attorney attempted to negotiate the language of nearly every provision of the agreement, and Cohen stated on at least one occasion that he would not sign the agreement," the filing says.
"In addition to expressing concerns about his book, [Cohen] objected to the requirement that any employment be approved in advance by Bureau of Prisons and the Probation Office; that he refrain from contacting convicted felons; that he refrain from grocery shopping (which would be performed for him by a family member); and to other language that he found confusing."
Cohen's lawyer "also objected to Petitioner being placed on electronic monitoring," the filing said.
And Cohen "stated during this discussion with the probation officers that he would not sign the agreement," according to the filing.
Cohen's excursions outside of his Upper East Side home since he was furloughed were mentioned in the filing, which noted that he had been seen dining at Manhattan restaurants.
That "is relevant to assessing the severity of [Cohen's] claimed health concerns about COVID-19," prosecutors wrote.
Cohen's lawsuit over his reimprisonment says that in his book he describes "first-hand experiences with Mr. Trump, and it provides graphic details about the President's behavior behind closed doors."
"For example, the narrative describes pointedly certain anti-Semitic remarks against prominent Jewish people and virulently racist remarks against such Black leaders as President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela."