On Saturday, writing for CNN, former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers said Attorney General William Barr owes Congress answers on the attempt to re-incarcerate President Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
"The attempted suppression of Cohen's book is different from prior efforts because it uses (and abuses) DOJ's hammer of incarceration," wrote Rodgers. "[John] Bolton and Mary Trump have been sued in civil court, by the Trump Administration and President Trump's brother Robert, respectively, and those suits are pending. If the authors are found to be in violation of valid non-disclosure agreements, they could lose their book profits. But Cohen lost his freedom, at least until a federal judge intervened, because the department remanded him for refusing to give up his right to speak."
As Rodgers noted, Cohen was forced to sign a clause prohibiting him "from having any communications at all with the media, or to use social media" as a condition of being released to house arrest, and when Cohen refused to sign it, he was returned to prison. "As numerous constitutional scholars have confirmed, the media provision was patently illegal as a prior restraint on speech protected by the First Amendment, and never should have been included in the agreement Cohen was asked to sign."
According to Rodgers, Congress needs to ask Barr three key questions about this incident.
"First, how did the prior restraint provision get into Cohen's home confinement agreement in the first place? Who drafted it? Who approved the agreement?" asked Rodgers. "Second, who within DOJ knew about the insertion of the prior restraint provision into Cohen's agreement prior to Cohen's filing of his lawsuit about it? Finally, once the provision came to light and Cohen filed his civil suit based on it, why did prosecutors try to defend the provision? Were they acting on directives from Washington DC in doing so? Was Barr or anyone else at DOJ outside of lawyers from the Southern District of New York, where the lawsuit was filed, involved in crafting the government's litigation position in the civil lawsuit?"
"House members should add this topic to their long list of things to ask William Barr about when he appears for testimony next week," concluded Rodgers. "It is a different level of abuse than he has previously been accused of engaging in, with respect to criminal defendants close to Trump, but it is no less damaging to the already strained fabric of the department's integrity."
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