Ex-Trump lawyer behind bars again after dispute over gag order

By Carlo Allegri and Tom Hals

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, was taken to a federal jail on Thursday after refusing to agree to a gag order as a condition of serving his criminal sentence under home confinement, Cohen's lawyer said.

Cohen, 53, was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to his lawyer, Jeffrey Levine. Cohen had been released from a federal prison in upstate New York in May due to concerns over possible exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Levine said he would try to get Cohen's arrest order vacated.

Cohen had completed about a year of a three-year sentence for his role in hush money payments to two women, as well as for financial crimes and lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen had originally been eligible for release in November 2021.

On Thursday, he was ordered to a federal courthouse in Manhattan to convert his furlough to home confinement, Levine said outside of the courthouse.

He said they were presented with an agreement that barred Cohen from having any contact with news media organizations, TV, film or book publishing outlets, or from posting on social media.

"I've never seen any language like this in my life," Levine said.

After objecting, Levine said the U.S. Marshals Service came with "shackles" and ordered Cohen remanded to the jail in Brooklyn because he failed to agree to the terms.

The federal Bureau of Prisons said Cohen refused the conditions of his home confinement and as a result was returned to a detention facility.

Levine said he had been working to resolve the dispute over the terms of home confinement.

Levine had said earlier on Thursday that Cohen was being taken to a facility in Brooklyn, but later learned Cohen was at the MCC in Manhattan.

On July 2, Cohen tweeted that he was close to completing a book with an anticipated publication date of September.

At the time of Cohen's release in May, he wrote on Twitter that "there is so much I want to say and intend to say. But now is not the right time. Soon."

Cohen once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump but later turned on his former boss and cooperated with Democratic-led congressional inquiries. Trump has called Cohen a "rat." Cohen has called Trump a "racist," a "con man" and "a cheat."

Trump, who is facing a challenging re-election bid in November, had to deal recently with two unflattering books about his administration and family, one by former national security adviser John Bolton and another by his niece Mary Trump.

Thursday's events come a week after Cohen was spotted at a sidewalk table at the French restaurant Le Bilboquet near his Park Avenue apartment in Manhattan, according to the New York Post newspaper.

Levine had told the Post that the dinner did not violate the terms of Cohen's release from prison.

Lanny Davis, a former attorney for Cohen, said on Thursday that Cohen told him the authorities never said he had violated any rules by going to the restaurant.

Davis also said that he spoke with Levine after what was expected to be a probation visit on Thursday.

He said Levine told him that, when Cohen objected to giving up his book and other First Amendment rights, the authorities said they would try to work it out. But instead, 90 minutes later, the U.S. marshals showed up with shackles and an order to arrest Cohen.

At that point, Cohen said he was willing to sign whatever they wanted, Davis was told, but as they put the shackles on Cohen, one marshal said, "It's out of our hands."

Cohen was sentenced for his role in hush money payments to two women, pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougall, who said they had sexual relationships with Trump. The president has denied having relationships with either woman.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Noeleen Walder, Carlo Allegri and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Franklin Paul, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)