Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will be released from prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cohen is currently locked up at Otisville prison in New York after pleading guilty to charges including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress. He will remain under quarantine for 14 days before he is released.
Federal statistics show 14 inmates and seven staff members at the prison have tested positive for coronavirus.
After he is released, 53-year-old Cohen will serve the rest of his sentence at home, according to a Justice Department official.
Cohen’s release comes as prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak, arguing that public health guidance to stay 6ft away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.
Attorney general William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons earlier this month to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots. Otisville is not one of those facilities.
As of Thursday, 473 federal inmates and 279 Bureau of Prisons staff members had tested positive for coronavirus at facilities across the US. Eighteen inmates have died since late March.
Many federal inmates have been seeking home confinement as the number of cases grows in the federal prison system, but advocates have accused the Bureau of Prisons of moving too slowly to release them.
The Bureau of Prisons said it had moved more than 1,000 inmates to home confinement since March 26, when Mr Barr first issued a directive to increase its use in late March. The agency said it is a “tremendous logistical lift that was accomplished through the marshalling of all of BOP’s resources”.
A federal judge had denied Cohen’s attempt for an early release to home confinement after serving 10 months in prison and said in a ruling earlier this month that it appeared to be “just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle”. But the Bureau of Prisons can take action to move him to home confinement without a judicial order.
Cohen began his sentence last May and was scheduled to be released from prison in November 2021.
Other high-profile inmates have also been released as the number of coronavirus cases soars. Last week, a judge ordered Michael Avenatti — the lawyer who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Mr Trump — to be temporarily freed from a federal jail in New York City and stay at a friend’s house in Los Angeles.
Avenatti said he was at high risk of getting coronavirus because he had had a recent bout of pneumonia and his cellmate at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan was removed due to flu-like symptoms.
Former New York state Senate leader Dean Skelos, 72, who was also serving a sentence at Otisville, is also expected to be released soon from prison to home confinement after testing positive for coronavirus, prosecutors told a judge on Wednesday.