World

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen released from prison over COVID-19 concerns

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, returned to his New York home on Thursday after being released early from a federal prison due to concerns he could be exposed to the novel coronavirus there.

Cohen is the 2nd former Trump associate released to home confinement in as many weeks

Michael Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment on Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer was released federal prison and is expected to serve the remainder of his sentence at home. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, returned to his New York home on Thursday after being released early from a federal prison due to concerns he could be exposed to the novel coronavirus there.

Cohen, 53, had completed a bit more than a year of a three-year sentence for his role in paying hush money to two women — adult film performer Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, as well as financial crimes and lying to Congress.

He is expected to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement, according to two sources familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Cohen had been eligible for release from prison in November 2021.

Wearing a white surgical mask, blue jeans and a dark blazer, Cohen emerged from a Mercedes and walked into his Manhattan apartment building without responding to questions from waiting journalists.

Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was released from a federal prison in Pennsylvania last week to finish his sentence at home due to health concerns related to the coronavirus.

While Manafort is nearly two decades older than Cohen and had suffered previous health issues, there had been no recorded cases in the Pennsylvania prison, while there had been several at the upstate New York prison where Cohen was being housed.

Roger Stone, another Trump associate sentenced to prison, has yet to begin his sentence in a correctional facility due to the pandemic.

A lawyer for Cohen in March said the federal Bureau of Prisons has been "demonstrably incapable of safeguarding and treating BOP inmates who are obliged to live in close quarters and are at an enhanced risk of catching coronavirus."

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last month the bureau was facing emergency conditions due to the fast-spreading virus, paving the way for the release of certain inmates into home confinement.

As they did with Manafort's release, some Democrats have criticized the optics and fairness of Cohen's release, with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar referring to the in-custody coronavirus death of an Indigenous woman in Texas.

Cohen revelations still being examined

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

Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges that led to his imprisonment. They also included lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

It was revealed through Cohen's later testimony and special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia interference that Trump had pursued the project well into 2016. The project was significant as it showed Trump was chasing a lucrative business deal in Russia at the same time that President Vladimir Putin's government, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, was conducting a hacking and propaganda campaign to boost his candidacy.

Trump told a news conference in July 2016 he had "nothing to do with Russia," and in a tweet days later said Russia, "has never tried to use leverage over me."

Trump amended his statements on the Moscow project after Cohen testified in Congress in late 2018.

"There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning," he said. "There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?"

The hush money payments, meanwhile, are believed to part of a probe by New York state authorities into Trump Organization. New York prosecutors have been denied access so far to records from Trump's accounting firm, leading to a Supreme Court hearing on the matter earlier this month.

Trump and his aides have denied that the Republican president had relationships with Daniels and McDougal.

With files from CBC News

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