Two weeks after President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was moved into isolation for a mandatory 14-day quarantine in anticipation of release from federal prison, he is still behind bars.
Cohen was informed by prison officials that he is not going home on Friday as anticipated while the Bureau of Prison continues to review his case, according to one person familiar with his situation. The person said Cohen will remain in isolation while the review is conducted. The Bureau of Prisons’ website indicates Cohen is still held at a minimum-security prison camp in Otisville, New York, just outside of New York City.
Cohen and dozens of other inmates at Otisville were placed in quarantine two weeks ago after being notified that they would be released and serve the remainders of their sentences in home confinement because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Cohen’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Earlier in the week, Roger Adler, one of his attorneys, said he was “cautiously hopeful” that Cohen would be released, but was not assured of his status.
On Friday, a person familiar with the matter said the Bureau of Prisons hasn’t rescinded its decision to release Cohen to home confinement, but said his review won’t be prioritized until later this month when Cohen has 18 months left on his sentence. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to lying to Congress, tax charges and two campaign finance charges for faciliating to hush money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.
Cohen, who is working on a tell-all book about his time working with Trump, was also served a cease and desist letter this week from Charles Harder, an attorney for the Trump Organization, requesting he stop working on the book, according to two sources. Among the reasons cited by Harder, they say, is writing the book would violate a confidential agreement and a lawyer’s ethical and legal obligations, such as attorney-client privilege.
Harder could not immediately be reached for comment.
Trump was irked by reports that Cohen was going to be released early due to the pandemic, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking. When asked Friday whether Trump intervened, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “No, absolutely not,”
The Bureau of Prisons changed its release guidelines several days after CNN first reported that Cohen and others at Otisville were informed that they would be released early from prison to home confinement because of the virus outbreak. The new guidelines called for prisoners to have served at least half of their sentence to be considered for potential release.
But days later, BOP reversed the guidance, saying that they would prioritize inmates for release who had served more than 50% of their sentence or have served 25% of their sentence with less than 18 months left, without making it a hard-and-fast requirement, according to an internal memo obtained by CNN.
Attorney General William Barr, who oversees the federal prison system, has been involved with the Bureau of Prison’s response to the pandemic’s growth behind bars, speaking regularly with the Bureau of Prison’s director, Michael Carvajal, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In a question-and-answer session with Twitter users on Friday, Barr said that the Bureau of Prisons currently has almost 5,000 prisoners serving in home confinement, with another 1,000 in the process of being released early.
“We’ve been using that discretion aggressively,” Barr said.
A Justice Department official said that Barr has not been involved in the decision-making regarding Cohen’s release.
The uncertainty over BOP’s guidance has caused confusion for dozens of inmate at Cohen’s prison.
The confusion played out in another high-profile case involving an Otisville inmate Dean Skelos, the former Republican New York state Senate majority leader who was convicted of corruption. Skelos was informed on April 15 that he would be released to home confinement.
But days later, federal prosecutors told a judge that when they sought an update on the release of Skelos, BOP informed them it was now “unlikely” that Skelos would be released.
“A representative of the BOP informed the Government, in substance, that the BOP no longer believed Skelos to be eligible for home confinement because, on April 20, the staff at Otisville received updated guidance,” according to a letter filed by prosecutors “In light of that guidance, and because Skelos has served only approximately 30% of his sentence, staff at Otisville no longer believe that Skelos qualifies for a discretionary transfer to home confinement.”
Judge Kimba Wood asked BOP to explain why it “reversed” its decision, but that didn’t happen because BOP agreed to release Skelos, who had tested positive for the virus, on furlough to serve his time at home confinement.
Cohen has already asked a judge for early release on numerous grounds including the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge William Pauley rejected his request in March.
“Apparently searching for a new argument to justify a modification of his sentence to home confinement, Cohen now raises the specter of Covid-19,” Pauley wrote. “That Cohen would seek to single himself out for release to home confinement appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle.”
As of Thursday, 1,692 of the more than 140,000 inmates in federal prisons had tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Thirty-three inmates have died.
On Friday, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said that 70% of the roughly 2,700 inmates who had been tested for coronavirus were found to have the virus, although the figure reflected an increase in testing being done at facilities where an outbreak had occurred. Only 45 of the 122 federal prisons have reported coronavirus cases among inmates or staff, the spokeswoman, Sue Allison, said.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report