Judge finds Cohen target of retaliation for Trump book, orders release from prison

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Cohen arrives home after being released from prison in May 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was ordered released from prison and will go into home confinement on Friday (July 24) after a federal judge found he was a target of retaliation for planning to publish a book about the president ahead of November's election.

Cohen, who had been released in May, was sent back to prison on July 9 after questioning a provision in a new series of conditions US probation officers asked him to sign.

The provision barred him from publishing the book, engaging with news organisations and posting on social media.

US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered Cohen released from a federal prison in Otisville, New York, about 110km north-west of New York City to his son by 2pm EDT on Friday (2am on Saturday, Singapore time).

"I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory and it's retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book," Hellerstein said at Thursday's hearing.

The judge asked the two sides to negotiate the media provision over the next week so that "it is consistent with the First Amendment but yet serve the purposes of confinement."

For the time being, Cohen's lawyer said he would agree to the imposition of the media gag order pending the discussion so he does not have to wait.

The judge, who said he had never seen such a gag order in his 21 years on the bench, said he found that reasonable.

"He should be released by 2pm to his son," the judge said.

Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump, was sentenced in 2018 for directing hush payments to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had affairs with Trump.

The president has denied having the encounters and has called Cohen a "rat".

On July 2, Cohen tweeted he was close to completing a book and he anticipated publishing it in September.

At the time of his release in May, he wrote on Twitter that "there is so much I want to say and intend to say. But now is not the right time. Soon."

Cohen served a year of his three-year sentence before being released due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in federal prisons.

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