Two Florida residents pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to trafficking in stolen goods for selling a diary and other personal effects of President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley Biden, the Justice Department said.
The criminal charges are the first to emerge from a federal investigation into how, prior to the 2020 presidential election, the journal reached the conservative video outlet, Project Veritas. The group has said it paid for rights to the publish the diary, but never did so because it couldn’t authenticate it. Contents from the diary later emerged on a more obscure right-wing site.
Last November, the FBI carried out search warrants at the home of the founder of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, and two of his colleagues, in connection with the investigation. None of those individuals have been charged, but O’Keefe has denounced the raids as an attack on press freedom.
In a Manhattan federal court hearing Thursday, Aimee Harris, 40, of Palm Beach and Jonathan Kurlander, 58, of Jupiter each pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge stemming from their involvement in selling the journal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said in a statement.
“Harris and Kurlander stole personal property from an immediate family member of a candidate for national political office,” Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “They sold the property to an organization in New York for $40,000 and even returned to take more of the victim’s property when asked to do so. Harris and Kurlander sought to profit from their theft of another person’s personal property, and they now stand convicted of a federal felony as a result.”
Both defendants pleaded guilty as part of agreements with prosecutors. Kurlander has agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of his deal, Williams’ office said. Details of the plea agreement were not immediately available. Each defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison, but defendants are typically sentenced under federal guidelines that usually call for a sentence well below the maximum.
A White House spokesperson referred a request for comment on the charges to the Justice Department. A lawyer for Ashley Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the developments.
O’Keefe has said his group was told that the diary and Ashley Biden’s other effects were abandoned by her when she left a Delray Beach, Fla. home where she’d been staying. The group eventually turned the materials over to police.
Justice Department officials have declined to comment on whether they treated Project Veritas as a media outlet and granted it protections that sharply limit investigations into news organizations. The conservative group, known for its video exposes, said it obtained records indicating the FBI considered it to be part of the media at the outset of the investigation.
Ashley Biden, 41, is President Joe Biden’s second daughter and his first with first lady Jill Biden. President Biden’s first daughter, Naomi, died in a car accident in 1972 at age 13 months along with her mother, Neilia Biden.
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.