Michael D. Cohen was re-detained on July 9 after having been released to home confinement in May. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
July 21 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union and a New York law firm have filed a lawsuit seeking the release of Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney of President Donald Trump, arguing his recent imprisonment was in retaliation against his plans to publish a book about his former client.
The habeas petition was filed Monday by the ACLU and Perry Guha LLP in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Cohen, who was taken back into federal custody on July 9.
"This case is about a brazen assault on the First Amendment and the rule of law," Danya Perry, founding partner of Perry Guha, said in a statement. "We trust that our Constitution will prevail and that free speech will continue to be protected, for our client and for all others by extension."
The lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal and James Petrucci, the warden of the federal correctional institution housing Cohen, as respondents.
Cohen, 53, was re-detained earlier this month while in a Manhattan courtroom seeking to arrange the terms of his home confinement after being released on furlough in May as he suffered from underlying health conditions that placed him at higher risk of suffering worse outcomes if infected by the coronavirus.
The lawsuit argues that Cohen's plans to publish a tell-all book about his decade-long relationship with Trump was the cause of his re-detention.
On July 2, while out of furlough, Cohen tweeted that he was "close to completion" on a book about his decade-long relationship with the president, stating it had an anticipated September release date.
According to the lawsuit, on the day Cohen was taken back into custody, probation officers told Cohen that he could be released into home confinement if he agreed to not speak to or through any form of media, including book.
The lawsuit states that as he and his lawyers negotiated the definitions and limitations of the prohibition, Cohen was detained and taken to the Federal Correctional Institution, Otisville, where he remains in solitary confinement.
"The government cannot imprison Michael Cohen for writing a book about President Trump," Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement. "The gag order that the government sought to impose on Mr. Cohen was an unconstitutional prior restraint, and his continued imprisonment is part of a dangerous pattern of retaliation against Trump critics."
The lawsuit says the agreement Cohen was presented with was "custom made" for him and was not a standardized government form as it was "riddled" with typos and other errors.
The book he plans to publish, the court documents said, describes first-hand experience with Trump and details his "behavior behind closed doors."
"For example, the narrative describes pointedly certain anti-Semitic remarks against prominent Jewish people and virulently racist remarks against Black leaders as President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela," the lawyers wrote in the document, stating Cohen started writing the book shortly after arriving at Otisville with the consent of the Bureau of Prisons' regulations.
The lawyers also said Trump had previously tried to stop the publication of the book on April 30 when a Trump Organization attorney sent Cohen a cease-and-desist letter, arguing he was barred from discussing such matters by a non-disclosure agreement.
Cohen claims he never signed such an agreement, the court documents state.
The former associate of Trump's was sentenced to a three-year prison term in December 2018 after pleading guilty in connection to arranging to pay hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Trump.