For­mer Trump fixer Michael Co­hen was re­leased to home con­fine­ment.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPOTOSKY matt.zapotosky@wash­post.com

Michael Co­hen, a for­mer per­sonal lawyer to Pres­i­dent Trump, was re­leased from fed­eral prison to home con­fine­ment Thurs­day as part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s push to stem the spread of the coro­n­avirus among in­mates.

Jef­frey Levine, Co­hen’s at­tor­ney, con­firmed the de­vel­op­ment af­ter Co­hen was spot­ted leav­ing the fa­cil­ity in Otisville, N.Y. Co­hen later wrote on Twit­ter: “I am so glad to be home and back with my fam­ily. There is so much I want to say and in­tend to say. But now is not the right time. Soon. Thank you to all my friends and sup­port­ers.”

The move, although ex­pected, is likely to rile Trump, who has de­rided his for­mer lawyer as a “rat.” Co­hen, 53, of New York City, once af­fec­tion­ately con­sid­ered him­self Trump’s “fixer,” but as he be­came en­snared in mul­ti­ple fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Co­hen turned on his for­mer client — co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors scru­ti­niz­ing the pres­i­dent, and air­ing out in fed­eral court and be­fore Congress what he viewed as Trump’s mis­con­duct.

Co­hen’s re­lease did not come easy, and it served to high­light on­go­ing dys­func­tion in how the Bureau of Prisons has im­ple­mented At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr’s di­rec­tive to pri­or­i­tize the use of home con­fine­ment to pre­vent covid-19 out­breaks in fed­eral de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Co­hen had ex­pected to get out May 1, af­ter be­ing placed in a two-week pre­re­lease quar­an­tine meant to en­sure he wouldn’t bring the virus to the out­side world. But as he waited, of­fi­cials changed course, de­cid­ing he would have to meet new Bureau of Prisons cri­te­ria that in­mates pri­or­i­tized for re­lease must first have served 50 per­cent of their sen­tence, or have served 25 per­cent and have 18 months or less re­main­ing.

That has not been the case for ev­ery­one. For­mer Trump campaign chair­man Paul Manafort, for ex­am­ple, was re­leased from prison last week with­out hav­ing met ei­ther set of cri­te­ria. Le­gal ad­vis­ers com­plained pub­licly about the re­ver­sal, fu­el­ing spec­u­la­tion that Co­hen was be­ing sin­gled out for harsh treat­ment be­cause of his soured re­la­tion­ship with Trump. Co­hen re­mained in quar­an­tine, wait­ing to hit the lower thresh­old — which, with good be­hav­ior time, he would do later in the month.

“As I write this let­ter Mr. Co­hen re­mains in soli­tary with no change of cloth­ing, show­ers once ev­ery three days, drink­ing dirty wa­ter from a rusty faucet in his cell, ined­i­ble food and his blood pres­sure/hy­per­ten­sion is not well con­trolled by med­i­ca­tion pre­scribed by the prison physi­cian,” Levine wrote in a let­ter on the day Co­hen was not re­leased as ex­pected.

The dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion at the Bureau of Prisons has not been lim­ited to Co­hen. In­mates in sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions have com­plained that the agency has is­sued shift­ing, some­times con­tra­dic­tory di­rec­tives about who should be re­leased, and ap­plied the rules in­con­sis­tently.

Co­hen pleaded guilty in 2018 in two sep­a­rate crim­i­nal cases. In the first, he ad­mit­ted to campaign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions stem­ming from pay­ments made be­fore the 2016 elec­tion to women who al­leged hav­ing af­fairs with Trump years ear­lier. The pres­i­dent has de­nied their claims. In the sec­ond, Co­hen ad­mit­ted to ly­ing to Congress about a Moscow real es­tate project Trump and his com­pany pur­sued while Trump was try­ing to se­cure the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Co­hen blamed Trump for his wrong­do­ing, say­ing that he ar­ranged the pay­ments at Trump’s di­rec­tion to keep the women quiet, and that he lied to law­mak­ers about the real es­tate project to pro­tect his boss. Trump has dis­puted his ac­count.

U.S. District Judge Wil­liam H. Pauley III sen­tenced Co­hen to three years in prison, and Co­hen re­ported to the in­sti­tu­tion in Otisville on May 6, 2019. In March, Pauley re­jected Co­hen’s bid to be re­leased early be­cause of the pan­demic.

But the coro­n­avirus-re­lief leg­is­la­tion Congress passed gave Barr the au­thor­ity to de­clare an emer­gency and al­low prison of­fi­cials to re­lease in­mates to home con­fine­ment with­out ju­di­cial ap­proval. That gave Co­hen an­other chance.

A Bureau of Prisons spokes­woman said Co­hen had been re­leased “on fur­lough” pend­ing his for­mal pro­cess­ing for home con­fine­ment.

Since Barr di­rected in late March that the Bureau of Prisons pri­or­i­tize the use of home con­fine­ment to stem the spread of the coro­n­avirus, of­fi­cials have re­leased thou­sands of peo­ple. Thou­sands of fed­eral in­mates have con­tracted the coro­n­avirus, and more than 50 have died.

The bureau’s de­ci­sions on who gets out, though, have sparked con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy. That was es­pe­cially true for Manafort, who had been im­pris­oned since 2018 and was serv­ing a term of more than seven years.

Manafort had been in­dicted by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller

III on a charge of wit­ness tam­per­ing while await­ing trial on bank and tax fraud charges, for which he was con­victed in sum­mer 2018. Manafort also later pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to de­fraud the United States and ob­struct jus­tice re­lated to his undis­closed lob­by­ing for a pro-rus­sian politi­cian and po­lit­i­cal party in Ukraine.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial said that although Manafort, 71, had not served enough time to be granted pri­or­ity re­lease, the Bureau of Prisons thought it was nec­es­sary be­cause of his age and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, given his un­der­ly­ing health con­di­tions. Prison of­fi­cials have dis­cre­tion to de­vi­ate from the re­quire­ments on time served, the of­fi­cial said.

Co­hen has sim­i­larly said that he has health prob­lems, in­clud­ing “a his­tory [of ] pul­monary em­bolisms, res­pi­ra­tory de­fi­cien­cies, car­diac con­cerns and high blood pres­sure,” ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by a le­gal ad­viser.

JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/SHUT­TER­STOCK

Michael Co­hen, for­mer lawyer of Pres­i­dent Trump, ar­rives at his New York apart­ment Thurs­day af­ter be­ing re­leased from fed­eral prison.

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