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Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen alleges retaliation, seeks $20 million in damages from U.S. government

Onetime "fixer" says he was sent back to federal prison for criticizing the then-president and writing a book about him.
Image: Michael COhen
Michael Cohen arrives at his apartment after being released from a federal prison to home confinement, in New York, on July 24, 2020.Corey Sipkin / AFP via Getty Images file

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, on Friday filed a claim seeking $20 million in damages from the federal government, alleging top figures in the Trump administration retaliated against him by sending him back to prison after he was furloughed last year.

The claim states that government officials committed "false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, wrongful confinement, and retaliation" against Cohen for, in large part, making critical statements about the former president and writing a book about his time working for Trump.

"Mr. Cohen was the personal attorney to the President of the United States and if he could be thrown in jail for desiring to write a critical book of the President one’s imagination need not go far before realizing that such unacceptable and constitutionally violative conduct could be directed at any of us," his attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said in a statement. "That is not hyperbole and not acceptable."

Levine also said that Cohen plans to file a lawsuit related to violations of his First Amendment rights, and it will name former Attorney General Bill Barr and the head of the Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal.

Cohen's book, titled “Disloyal: A Memoir," was released in September 2020. In it, Cohen alleged that Trump worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election and that Trump worked to get close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and “his coterie of corrupt billionaire oligarchs,” among other misdeeds. Trump has repeatedly and consistently denied any collusion with Russia in the 2016 election.

Cohen, 54, also described fearing for his life after his decision to testify against Trump and said that he believed the president wanted him dead. At one point, Cohen said, he contemplated suicide as death threats “had come by the hundreds.”

He has been described in the past as Trump's "fixer," but turned on his former boss, calling him a "con man" and "a cheat" during dramatic testimony before Congress in 2019.

Cohen was released from federal prison in May 2020. He was serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to what a federal judge called a "veritable smorgasbord" of criminal conduct, including making secret payments to women who said they'd had had affairs with Trump, lying to Congress about the president’s business dealings with Russia and failing to report millions of dollars in income.

Cohen was initially set to be released from federal lockup in Otisville, New York, in November 2021. He had served just over a year of his sentence when he was released early. But Cohen was sent back to prison in July 2020 after refusing to sign a home confinement agreement barring him from publishing a book or speaking to the media.

Cohen argued in his claim that his trip to meet probation officials at the federal courthouse in Manhattan that day in July was a trap. Law enforcement officials previously said Cohen, who had been released from prison because of coronavirus concerns, refused to sign the agreement prohibiting him from interacting with the media or writing a book.

Cohen was presented eight conditions required for home confinement and became angered about the media gag rule, his former attorney and adviser Lanny Davis said at the time. Davis said Cohen was reluctant to sign because he had already completed his book while in prison.

However, Cohen was later released in mid-July of last year after a federal judge ordered him freed, agreeing with Cohen's attorneys that he was wrongly sent back to prison after making public statements critical of Trump.

"Accountability for these tyrannical, unconstitutional and retaliatory acts are necessary to uphold our forefathers intent for independence, democracy and the rule of law," Cohen's attorney said in a statement.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.