Donald Trump is a right-wing demagogue in the tradition of Joe McCarthy, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin, who reflects his party’s long historical descent. But Trump also has several uniquely virulent qualities that set him apart: his personal criminality, his ambition to use the Justice Department as a personal weapon, and his desire to use state power to quash criticism. The case of Michael Cohen brings together all three.
Today, a federal judge ruled that Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, had previously been denied home confinement because he is publishing a book that reveals unflattering details about the president. Cohen had been furloughed, and was sent back to prison after refusing to sign an agreement that gave up his right to publish his book.
Cohen was convicted of campaign finance violations for funneling hush money to keep Trump’s former paramours quiet. As the Justice Department charged at the time, “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.” Of course, Individual-1 is Donald Trump. However, because of a policy that prevents the DOJ from criminally prosecuting a sitting president, only Cohen faced legal accountability for the crime Trump ordered.
Cohen’s treatment harshly contrasts with that of Trump’s other criminal associates Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Flynn. The latter three all refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Manafort was released from prison early. Stone’s sentence was commuted, and Trump’s Justice Department engineered an astonishing reversal to drop its case against Flynn. Only Cohen, who violated the omerta, is facing the full front of the legal system.
The most abusive aspect of Cohen’s treatment has surely been the Justice Department’s attempt to pressure him into giving up his book. “I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory,” the judge said. “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.”
Suppressing a book that might hurt the president is an unusually blunt tool of censorship. Trump frequently calls various forms of protected First Amendment criticism illegal, but here we see his Justice Department following through on these claims.
Trump has attempted to stop the publication of several critical books: The Room Where it Happened by his former national security adviser John Bolton and Too Much and Never Enough by his niece Mary Trump. Cohen’s book, Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump, will join the already-crowded collection of books written by former Trump associates trying to warn the public that the president is bigoted, corrupt, and mentally unstable. Trump’s response to these books only seems to confirm their indictments.