(CN) — Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who was recently sent back to prison after being released to home confinement due to Covid-19, claims in a lawsuit filed Monday that he is being punished for writing — and intending to publish — a book critical of the president.
Cohen, a former personal attorney for President Donald Trump sentenced to three years in prison for tax fraud, lying to Congress and violating campaign-finance law, brought a free speech lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Attorney General William Barr and other justice officials.
While released to home confinement, the president’s former attorney was photographed dining at a sidewalk table outside of a restaurant around the corner from his Park Avenue apartment. A week later, he was remanded to prison and the Bureau of Prisons confirmed he had refused to comply with the terms of his placement in the US Probation Office’s Federal Location Monitoring program.
In the 21-page lawsuit, Cohen alleges that he is being retaliated against by the Trump administration over his decision to write and publish a memoir Cohen claims will not only be critical of the president, but will contain detailed depictions of Trump’s behavior behind closed doors — including, according to the complaint, stories of the president using anti-Semitic and racist remarks against prominent leaders, such as Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela.
Cohen largely takes issue with one specific requirement he was forced to agree to when he was released from prison to house arrest regarding his book. Cohen claims that in order for him to procure a home release — something the complaint says was critical for Cohen given his medical history with severe hypertension — he had to sign an agreement that would relinquish his First Amendment right to speak through any media format, including books.
The suit claims that Cohen did not actually object to these restrictions, but instead asked for clarification on some of the finer points on what he could or could not do. Cohen alleges that rather than offer clarity, he was instead cuffed and remanded back to prison where he is currently in solitary confinement.
Danya Perry, partner at the Perry Guha, and the American Civil Liberties Union brought the suit on behalf of Cohen.
“This case is about a brazen assault on the First Amendment and the rule of law. It is not about politics or personalities,” Perry 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.”
Cohen claims in his suit that these restrictions would not only prevent him from continuing to work on his book — which he began to work on after being sent to prison — but were also put in place to silence him during an election year.
He also alleges that this is not the first time that he was pressured to be quiet regarding his book. The complaint claims that on April 30, Trump Organization attorney Charles Harder sent a cease and desist letter to Cohen’s attorney with claims that Cohen’s book was barred by a nondisclosure agreement.
Cohen claims that he does not believe he ever signed such an NDA and that no such letter was actually attached to the cease and desist letter.
Harder used the same claim in an attempt to block a memoir by Mary Trump — which was ultimately published despite efforts to quash it.
There was also a heated and lengthy legal battle over the publication of former Trump advisor John Bolton’s book recently, but that book eventually made it onto shelves as well.
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said that these restrictions on Cohen serve as just another example of the Trump administration attempting to silence Trump’s critics.
“The government cannot imprison Michael Cohen for writing a book about President Trump,” Wizner said in a press 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.”
Cohen’s complaint concludes with a request to be immediately released from prison and be allowed to resume his home confinement.
Representatives from the Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to requests for comment.