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Federal Judge Denies Michael Cohen’s Petition to Cut His Sentence Under Trump’s First Step Act


Former President Donald Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen tried to benefit from a law passed by his old boss that could have shaved time off his sentence, but a federal judge rejected that petition on Tuesday.

Cohen had argued that his participation in multiple Justice Department rehabilitation programs earned him credit toward an early release under the First Step Act, passed on a bipartisan basis and signed by Trump.

Released to home confinement because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic in U.S. prisons, Cohen has been serving a three-year sentence for campaign-finance and other crimes — a term that was initially set to expire on May 3, 2022. That date has been bumped Nov. 22 this year under the criminal justice reform program.

Though Cohen calculated his release date toward the end of next month, District Judge John Koeltl wrote:  “The Government’s reasoning is more persuasive.”

“The statute clearly envisions that the program will be gradually implemented during the phase-in period. During this period, the Act requires the BOP to provide evidence-based recidivism reduction activities for all prisoners before the two-year anniversary of the date that the BOP completes a risk and needs assessment for each prisoner, namely by January 15, 2022,” the Bill Clinton-appointed jurist continued “The statute also requires the BOP during the phase-in period to develop and validate the risk and needs assessment to be used in the reassessments of risk of recidivism, while prisoners are participating in and completing evidence-based recidivism programs.”

But Koeltl added that the statute does not mandate that prison officials begin awarding earned time credits during the phase-in period.

The judge also found that Cohen bypassed a process within the prison system by turning to federal court.

“There were two levels of appeal that Mr. Cohen chose to ignore,” the opinion states. “Mr. Cohen argues that his failure to exhaust should be excused because he suffers from irreparable harm from the violation of his constitutional rights, the issue presented only pertains to statutory construction, and exhaustion would be futile.”

The ruling landed on the same day as a Minnesota jury convicted police officer Derek Chauvin of three counts of murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd, a fact that Cohen cited in declining substantive comment.

“Despite the adverse decision by Judge Koeltl of the SDNY to my Habeas petition, right now, all attention should be directed to the conviction of Chauvin and the justice for George Floyd,” Cohen told Law&Crime in a text message.

Cohen said that he will offer a more substantive statement on Wednesday.

Falling out of favor with Trump after cooperating against him with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and multiple congressional hearings, Cohen has huddled with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s investigators several times in their ongoing criminal probe of Trump.

That investigation turned a corner with the district attorney’s multiple Supreme Court victories allowing a grand jury to access Trump’s finances.

Read the court’s ruling below:

(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez of AFP via Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."