(Bloomberg) — Michael Cohen, the former lawyer and fixer who became one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics, is pushing to end his prison sentence early under the criminal justice reform law his ex-boss signed as president and heavily touted on the campaign trail.
Cohen, who received a three-year sentence for campaign-finance violations tied to hush-money payments he made to Stormy Daniels and other charges, isn’t actually in prison now. Like most other non-violent federal prisoners with remaining sentences under a certain duration, Cohen was released into home confinement last summer due to the pandemic. His sentence ends in the fall, so any reduction he gets will be minimal.
Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
But advocates say Cohen’s fight could help thousands of other inmates left in limbo by the slow rollout of the First Step Act. The law, which Trump signed in 2018 after it passed Congress with bipartisan support, gave the Justice Department until 2022 to fully implement it. But Cohen and other inmates are asking the government to apply the law’s early-release provisions to them now.
“There are legions of federal prisoners in the same boat,” said Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor now representing inmates seeking early release.
Cohen is asking a judge to allow him out of home confinement ahead of the resolution of the case. “Each and every day that I remain on home confinement is yet again a violation of my constitutional rights,” he said.
The law allows prisoners to seek credit toward early release by completing various remedial programs or performing on-site work. Cohen filed a petition in Manhattan federal court in December to force the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to calculate the amount of credit he should receive from such programs under the First Step Act.
The bureau responded that the provisions he was citing would not kick in completely until January 2022. The government also argued that Cohen didn’t qualify for credit under any of the programs anyway.
Cohen has pinned his hopes on two recent rulings by a federal judge in New Jersey who ordered the government to give credit to qualifying inmates even while the law is being implemented.
‘More than Lincoln’
“The Department of Justice is taking a position that is antithetical to both the letter and the spirit of the First Step Act, and the first judge to have ruled on this issue has held exactly that,” said Perry, who represented one of the New Jersey inmates.
The sweeping law contains several other provisions covering federal sentencing and incarceration. Former WorldCom Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ebbers and Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam were both granted early release under the First Step Act, though Bernard Madoff was denied.
The law was a centerpiece of Trump’s attempt to win over Black voters in during the 2020 campaign and one of the bases for his boast that he had done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. In addition to calling his former boss a con man and fraud, Cohen has said Trump frequently expressed racist views in private conversations.
A spokesman for Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Published at Tue, 06 Apr 2021 12:04:00 +0000