MANHATTAN (CN) – Skewering the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, the president’s convicted former lawyer Michael Cohen asked a federal judge Tuesday to give him home confinement.
“In absence of presidential leadership, judges should act thoughtfully and decisively,” attorney Roger Bennet Adler said in a brief letter on Cohen’s behalf. “President Trump apparently does not subscribe to President Harry Truman’s observation ‘The buck stops here.’”
Just this past Friday, Trump washed his hands of any fault for widespread lack of testing for the COVID-19 pandemic or weeks of minimizing its threat.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump told reporters at the Rose Garden.
Cohen, however, pointed a finger at the man for whom he was once a trusted attorney and fixer.
“This letter seeks to focus my pending application on a sentence modification as a consequence of the Bureau of Prisons being demonstrably incapable of safeguarding and treating B.O.P. inmates who are obligated to live in close quarters and are at enhanced risk of catching coronavirus,” Adler’s wrote.
While Cohen has in the past sought a break on the three-year sentence for what a federal judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,” this marks the first time he has had a national emergency on which to lean.
In December, Cohen asked U.S. District Judge William Pauley III to shorten his sentence because of his extensive cooperation with state, federal and congressional authorities on numerous investigations. Prosecutors at the Southern District of New York blasted that help as selective at his sentencing in 2018.
Cohen has long blamed his own loyalty to the president for behavior to which he pleaded guilty: tax fraud, campaign-finance fraud and false statements to Congress. Cohen said the crimes were done in service of hiding Trump’s alleged affair with pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, as well as disguising the details of a thwarted Trump Towers Moscow deal.
“All that [Cohen] thought was important and valuable has been painfully revealed as derived, as if through a ‘Faustian bargain,’” the incarcerated former fixer wrote in December.
“Like former White House counsel John Dean observed in his book ‘Blind Ambition,’ [Cohen] thought being Donald Trump’s lawyer made him a ‘big man,’” his 6-page affirmation continued. “[Cohen] now realizes, as he walks the Otisville Camp paths, that he, in fact ‘sold his soul,’ and foolishly frittered away his integrity.”
During the coronavirus outbreak, the Bureau of Prisons had to contend with a crisis next door to the Southern District of New York: Metropolitan Correctional Center, which went on lockdown on Feb. 27 after receiving a tip that a firearm was smuggled in behind bars.
The Federal Defenders of New York shared horror stories of inmates living in close quarters with little access to showers, medical care or adequate food, as advocates raised alarm about what the Bureau of Prisons has been doing to protect prisons.
For its part, the bureau insisted last week that no inmates were infected and protective measures were taking place. The agency did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment and an update on the situation.
Tuesday’s letter does not allege specific unsanitary conditions at Otisville, a white-collar prison some 80 miles away from New York where Cohen is confined, but his attorney underlined the need for federal judges to adapt their sentencing practices to the pandemic.
In an exhibit of the letter, a blog post from Sentencing Law and Policy asks: “When and how will federal authorities start systematically modifying federal sentencing and prison realities in response to COVID-19 outbreak?”