Two Florida residents pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges stemming from the theft and sale to conservative investigative journalism group Project Veritas of a diary that court papers have shown belonged to U.S. President Joe Biden‘s daughter Ashley.
Aimee Harris, 40, and Robert Kurlander, 58, entered their pleas before a magistrate judge in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. They also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan did not identify Ashley Biden or Project Veritas in Thursday’s court papers, but prosecutors and the conservative group have discussed the investigation in related civil proceedings in Manhattan federal court that began last year.
According to court papers, Ashley Biden had in 2020 been staying at a friend’s home in Delray Beach, Florida, where she stored the diary and other possessions.
After Biden moved out, the friend invited Harris to temporarily stay there, the papers show. Two months later, Harris contacted Kurlander for help in selling the diary and other items, including private family photos, prosecutors said.
The pair first contacted the Trump campaign about purchasing the documents in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election. Harris and Kurlander were rebuffed in their attempts, however, with Trump officials urging them to turn the items over to the FBI.
Following this attempt, the accused sold the items to Project Veritas for $20,000 each.
The related civil proceedings concerned a U.S. Department of Justice probe into Project Veritas’ possible role in the diary‘s theft, and an FBI seizure of cellphones from the homes of the group’s founder James O’Keefe and two former members.
Paul Calli, a lawyer for Project Veritas, in a filing last November said two people identified as A.H. and R.K. offered to sell the diary to the group, whose in-house lawyers negotiated an “arm’s length agreement” for the sale.
He said that while the sellers claimed they obtained the diary lawfully, Project Veritas decided not to publish a story because it could not confirm the diary was Biden‘s, and instead arranged for the diary to be sent to Florida law enforcement.
In a statement on Thursday, Calli said Project Veritas’ newsgathering was “ethical and legal.”
“A journalist’s lawful receipt of material later alleged to be stolen is routine, commonplace, and protected by the First Amendment,” Calli said.
Harris, of Palm Beach, Florida, and Kurlander, of Jupiter, Florida, each face a maximum of five years in prison.
Sam Talkin, a lawyer for Harris, said his client “has accepted responsibility for her conduct and looks forward to moving on with her life.”
A lawyer for Kurlander did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Ashley Biden, declined to comment.
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters (Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal)