Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer for ex-President Donald Trump, on Monday urged a federal judge to suspend his criminal sentence of home confinement while the judge weighs his request to declare his punishment satisfied by work and education credits obtained in prison.
The request came as Cohen is separately expected later this week to meet — for the ninth time — with investigators from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. who are conducting a wide-ranging criminal probe of Trump and the Trump Organization, a source familiar with the case told CNBC.
Cohen’s sentence request is unrelated to his cooperation with Vance’s investigation, which is the most serious exposure to criminal prosecution that Trump currently faces.
Vance is known to be investigating how the Trump firm accounted for hush-money payments Cohen facilitated for two women in 2016 and is probing Cohen’s allegations to Congress that the Trump Organization artificially manipulated the valuation of real estate assets to benefit financially.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge John Koetl, Cohen wrote that every day his home confinement in Manhattan continues “is a day Mr. Cohen is incarcerated unlawfully.”
Cohen wrote that he wants Koetl to “order his release pending adjudication” of the question of whether his criminal sentence has already been satisfied.
He also wrote, “The impetus for said request stems from the well-known fact that The Bureau of Prisons conspicuously slow walks these petitions to moot the determination; especially in matters like the one before Your Honor where Petitioner will be released from home confinement in 7 months.”
If Koetl granted that request, Cohen would be allowed to leave his Upper East Side residence at will, at least until the judge ultimately rules on his legal bid to have his sentence declared complete.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, unlawful campaign contributions and making a false statement to Congress, was released into home confinement last spring after serving slightly more than one year of his three-year prison sentence due to coronavirus concerns.
In his pending petition to Koetl in Manhattan federal court, Cohen argued that his sentence is completed because of courses and work assignments he finished in prison, which earned him credit for time under the First Step Act, which Trump signed into law. Cohen argues that his latest possible release date is May 29.
Cohen told CNBC, “This letter to Judge Koetl and my underlying writ of habeas corpus seeks judicial intervention to force the Bureau of Prisons to provide me with what I am entitled to under the terms of the First Step Act. Nothing more, nothing less.”
And, Cohen added, “This petition has nothing to do with my ongoing, continuous cooperation with the district attorney’s office, the [New York state] Attorney General’s office or any other investigation in which I’m involved.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James is conducting a civil investigation of the Trump Organization, which, like Vance’s criminal probe, is eyeing whether the company improperly stated the value of the same property assets at different times, benefiting from lower tax expenses and insurance costs when the valuations were lower than what were stated for loan purposes.
Federal prosecutors argued that Cohen is not eligible to receive earned time credits for any of the work or courses he identified “primarily because Cohen does not have a need for purposes of lowering his risk of recidivism in any of the areas in which he completed courses or work.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the entity that is opposing Cohen’s bid, declined to comment Monday.
In his letter Monday, Cohen also brought to Koetl’s attention a filing in another case involving a federal inmate in which prosecutors appear to have dropped two “misguided and flawed defenses” that they used in Cohen’s case.
Those defenses are that Cohen’s claim for a ruling from Koetl is not legally ripe because the First Step Act has not taken full effect and because he has not exhausted administrative appeals to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Cohen began cooperating with Vance’s probe before he went to prison and continued talking to investigators while locked up and after his release into home confinement.