New York (AFP) - A judge ordered Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen released to home confinement Thursday after ruling that officials redetained him as punishment for writing a book critical of the US president.
The ruling was the latest twist in a long-running legal saga involving Cohen, who once bragged he'd "take a bullet" for Trump before later implicating him in crimes.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in jail in December 2018 after admitting paying hush money to two women who say they had sex with Trump, for tax fraud and for lying to Congress.
Cohen was released on prison furlough on May 21 as part of a push to stem the spread of COVID-19 among inmates.
But the 53-year-old was taken back into custody by officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons on July 9 after declining to agree to the conditions of his home confinement.
His lawyers successfully argued that Cohen was returned to jail because he wants to publish an unflattering book that he's writing about Trump.
New York Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the condition violated the First Amendment, which protects people's right to freedom of expression.
"I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory," the judge said, according to US media.
"And it's retaliation because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others," he added.
The judge ordered that Cohen be released to home confinement in Manhattan on Friday.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said "any assertion that the decision to remand Michael Cohen to prison was a retaliatory action is patently false."
"Mr Cohen refused to agree to the terms of the program, specifically electronic monitoring. In addition, he was argumentative, was attempting to dictate the conditions of his monitoring, including conditions relating to self-employment, access to media, use of social media and other accountability measures," the bureau said in a statement.
Cohen's attorneys said in court documents that the memoir "provides graphic details about the president's behavior behind closed doors."
"For example, the narrative describes pointedly certain anti-Semitic remarks against prominent Jewish people and virulently racist remarks against such Black leaders as President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela," they wrote.
Once Trump's right-hand man, Cohen fell out of favor with the president, who dubbed him a "rat" after his former confidante testified in federal court and to Congress.
Cohen admitted a number of crimes including violating campaign finance laws by delivering payments prior to the 2016 election to a porn actress and a former Playboy model who allegedly had affairs with the president.
Trump denies the allegations.