In a court filing late Monday against the Attorney General William Barr, the head of the Bureau of Prisons and the warden at the Otisville, New York, federal prison, Cohen’s attorneys alleged that the Justice Department retaliated against Cohen for writing a book about the years he worked for Trump, violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union joined Cohen In the lawsuit.
“The First Amendment forbids Respondent from imprisoning Mr. Cohen in retaliation for drafting a book about the President and for seeking to publish that book soon,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote in the court filing.
“The government’s effort to exercise prior restraint over Mr. Cohen’s book is only the latest in the Trump Administration’s efforts to censor speech that reflects negatively on Trump himself or his Administration,” it said.
CNN has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.
Cohen has been held in solitary confinement at the federal prison in Otisville after he was sent back into custody on July 9 when he balked at a provision in his home confinement agreement that would have prohibited his use of social media and engagement with the media, including books.
The filing is the latest in an unusual series of twists surrounding Cohen’s sentence since he pled guilty in 2018 to tax fraud, making false statements to Congress, and facilitating hush money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence.
In May, Cohen was released from prison partway through his sentence and placed on furlough as part of the Bureau of Prisons handling of the coronavirus pandemic. His lawyers allege the Bureau of Prisons had no issues with Cohen’s release for nearly a month until Cohen began tweeting about his book and support for a ruling in favor of a book published by Mary Trump, the President’s niece.
On July 9, Cohen and his lawyer Jeffrey Levine went to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan to transfer his status from furlough to home confinement and be fitted for an electronic monitoring device.
During a meeting with probation officers, Cohen was handed a copy of a Federal Location Monitoring Agreement form that stated as a condition of release Cohen would be prohibited from posting on social media and from engaging with the media — specifically listing “books.”
Cohen objected, and Levine previously told CNN that probation officials said they would check with supervisors to see if that condition could be removed. Cohen’s lawyers maintain he never refused to sign the release form. When the officials returned Cohen was shackled by US Marshals.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons previously said that Cohen was taken into custody after he “declined to agree to the terms required for the program and home confinement placement.”
Several defense lawyers and legal experts told CNN the no-media provision was unusual.