Two plead guilty to stealing, selling Biden daughter's diary

Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander leave court after pleading guilty to stealing a diary and other items belonging to Ashley Biden. PHOTOS: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two people pleaded guilty on Thursday (Aug 25) to stealing and selling for US$40,000 (S$55,000) the private diary of President Joe Biden's daughter Ashley Biden, when he was running for office against Mr Donald Trump in 2020.

The Justice Department announced the guilty pleas by Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander in court filings that refer to the victim as the daughter of "Candidate-1" - widely understood to be Mr Biden.

According to the filings, the pair first sought to sell the diary to Trump's campaign - named as "Candidate-2" - and when rebuffed they took it to a conservative activist group.

That group, previously identified as Project Veritas, offered them each US$20,000 and allegedly encouraged them to return to steal other items, like digital files of family photographs, that Ms Ashley Biden, 41, had left at a friend's home in Florida, the department said.

Project Veritas is a Republican-aligned independent operation that has a record of seeking to infiltrate and trick progressive groups into actions that can be used to embarrass them politically.

While the organisation never published the diary, a conservative website named National File did so - saying they obtained it from someone at Project Veritas, which sparked an FBI investigation.

The Justice Department said Harris and Kurlander pleaded guilty in a deal that requires them to forfeit the money they were paid and cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

They each face up to five years in prison on one count of conspiracy to transport stolen property.

Project Veritas defended itself in a statement, saying its "news gathering was ethical and legal".

It said: "A journalist's lawful receipt of material later alleged to be stolen is routine, commonplace, and protected by the First Amendment (of the US Constitution)."

US President Joe Biden walks on the beach in Delaware with daughter Ashley (right), in June 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The FBI has also reportedly looked into the issue of the contents of a laptop owned by Mr Biden's son Hunter and left in a computer repair shop that were allegedly shared with conservative groups and mainstream media.

E-mail messages that purportedly suggest that Mr Hunter Biden and his father were involved in shady dealings in Ukraine were published by the New York Post just before the November 2020 election.

Since then, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others have also reported on some of the computer's contents, which included 129,000 e-mail messages.

The files continue to be used in efforts to politically damage the president, and are reportedly part of an ongoing FBI investigation of Mr Hunter Biden's financial dealings.

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