Judge rules Michael Cohen can sue Trump for legal fees — but refuses lawsuit over retaliation
Michael Cohen and Donald Trump (Photo: Screen captures)

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer, was in court this week as part of his effort to prove that the former president used his power to manipulate the federal prison system and violated his First Amendment rights.

While in prison, Cohen was going to be let out on house arrest, but he was being told the only way he would be released was if he signed a kind of nondisclosure agreement not to speak out about Donald Trump, write a tell-all book or give any interviews talking about him. Cohen refused and was swiftly sent back to prison, and put in solitary confinement.

Cohen, at the time, sued on the grounds that it was a violation of his First Amendment rights and the court agreed, allowing him to release with the freedom to speak out.

Over the past two years, with the help of three members of Congress, including a congressional committee chairman, and a good governance group, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons, Cohen has been seeking any kind of paperwork that directed such action and where it might have come from. Each attempt has been rebuffed.

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In 2018, American Oversight filed its own FOIA request asking about details involving Cohen. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) also sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General on July 24, 2020, asking for information on the decision to try and restrict Cohen's movements.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman ruled that moving Cohen from home confinement to solitary confinement in 2020 after he refused to sign away his rights, did not undermine his First Amendment right to free speech. The judge also ruled it didn't amount to an illegal seizure, false arrest or cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein agreed at the time, in 2020, that the imprisonment was "retaliatory in response to Cohen desiring to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book critical of the president — and to discuss the book on social media.” So, it's the act of throwing Cohen back in jail Judge Liman said wasn't a violation of his rights.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that a New York state appeals court did agree that Cohen can sue the Trump Organization to cover his millions of dollars in legal fees over the past several years.

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The panel of judges ruled in a 5-0 decision that the trial judge erred in dismissing Cohen's lawsuit because it's unclear whether the legal fees mounted because he was a Trump Org. employee, which would give him the right to be reimbursed.

Justice Joel Cohen, the trial judge, ruled in Nov. 2021 that Cohen's fees "arise out of his (sometimes unlawful) service to Mr. Trump personally, to Mr. Trump's campaign and to the Trump Foundation, but not out of his service to the business of the Trump Organization, which is the only defendant."

Cohen is suing for $1.9 million in legal fees and another $1.9 million he was ordered to forfeit in a criminal case.

In a statement to Raw Story, Cohen said that "despite the crystal clear retaliation wording of Federal Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein's decision, I knew that Government would do everything in its power to deny my case so as to protect the institution. Granting this motion prevents me from obtaining documents that would expose what happens when you have a corrupt president who weaponizes the DOJ through a complicit Attorney General."

He went on to say that he disagrees with Judge Liman, "and believe(s)` he is simply wrong on both the Bivens claim as well as the FTCA claims. At every turn, I have been silenced or derailed in my efforts to expose the unethical and unconstitutional tactics used against me by the previous administration. Despite all this, I will not be deterred in continuing my journey of speaking truth to power."

Cohen's statements come on the heels of a New York Times interview with four-star Gen. John Kelly, who was Donald Trump's longest-serving chief of staff. Kelly publicly confirmed previous reports that Trump specifically wanted to use the IRS and the Justice Department to silence his critics and attack his foes. Trump's spokesperson has responded to this claim by calling Kelly a "psycho."

In a July report, The New York Times revealed that at least two of President Donald Trump's foes were suspiciously targeted by the IRS for extensive and "invasive" audits.

The question remains if Cohen's "criminal tax fraud" charges, which he continues to deny, were also politically motivated.