More secrecy: Another Trump-connected inmate leaving federal prison while thousands struggle to escape COVID-19

Credit: Richard Theis/EyeEm/Getty

With thousands of inmates in highly-infected prisons still behind bars, another Trump-connected federal inmate is leaving early and under unusual circumstances, raising questions about who gets out and who stays in federal prisons across the country.

Michael Cohen, longtime personal attorney for President Donald Trump, was  released early from federal prison on Thursday amid health concerns connected to the coronavirus, according to national media reports.

The release comes after Trump ally Paul Manafort left early from federal prison on May 13 to serve in home confinement. It appears that Cohen will do the same, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Meanwhile, the BOP, which manages 145 federal prisons, refuses to disclose who is being released early among its roughly 168,000 inmates due to heightened risk of exposure to coronavirus.

But it says it has released 2,932 since U.S. Attorney General William Barr first ordered the early releases on March 26.

Because of the secrecy, the public doesn’t know which inmates have been released, how those inmates were chosen, and where those inmates were placed in communities. And if older inmates are being prioritized — Manafort is 71 — why would Cohen, 53, get out?

More than 19,000 federal inmates are older than Cohen, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Overall, the terms of Cohen’s release appear to differ from the criteria for release specified in Barr’s March 26 and April 3 orders. A federal judge denied his request for release in March, but the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times report that Cohen’s attorney, Roger B. Adler, said Thursday the anticipated release was “granted after a direct request was made to the agency.”

The Barr memos say inmates should be prioritized for early release to home confinement based on the severity of infections in the prison incarcerating them, advanced age, health problems that make them more susceptible to the disease, type of offense, percentage of time served, and behavior during incarceration.

Trump’s former campaign manager, Manafort, was released because his age and health problems placed him at elevated risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.

Cohen and Manafort were serving their sentences in federal prisons where confirmed coronavirus infections remained low and no inmates had died through Thursday morning, according to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) COVID-19 dashboard on its website. COVID-19 has killed 58 inmates in other federal prisons.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in federal prisons, Barr ordered that early releases be prioritized for eligible inmates in the nation’s most infected prisons, which do not include the Otisville, New York, prison that incarcerated Cohen nor the Loretto, Penn., prison that incarcerated Manafort.

But The Wall Street Journal and New York Times report that prison authorities will allow Cohen to be released halfway through a three-year sentence for federal crimes including campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress.