COURTS & LEGAL

1st Amendment claim struck down in case focused on diary of Biden’s daughter

Dec 25, 2023, 5:39 PM

President Joe Biden attends his granddaughter Maisy Biden's commencement ceremony with first lady J...

President Joe Biden attends his granddaughter Maisy Biden's commencement ceremony with first lady Jill Biden and children Hunter Biden and Ashley Biden at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Monday, May 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEW YORK (AP) — Criminal prosecutors may soon get to see over 900 documents pertaining to the alleged theft of a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter after a judge rejected the conservative group Project Veritas’ First Amendment claim.

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said on behalf of the nonprofit Monday that attorneys are considering appealing last Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan. In the written decision, the judge said the documents can be given to investigators by Jan. 5.

The documents were produced from raids that were authorized in November 2021. Electronic devices were also seized from the residences of three members of Project Veritas, including two mobile phones from the home of James O’Keefe, the group’s since-fired founder.

Project Veritas, founded in 2010, identifies itself as a news organization. It is best known for conducting hidden camera stings that have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians.

In written arguments, lawyers for Project Veritas and O’Keefe said the government’s investigation “seems undertaken not to vindicate any real interests of justice, but rather to stifle the press from investigating the President’s family.”

“It is impossible to imagine the government investigating an abandoned diary (or perhaps the other belongings left behind with it), had the diary not been written by someone with the last name ‘Biden,’” they added.

The judge rejected the First Amendment arguments, saying in the ruling that they were “inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.” She also noted that Project Veritas could not claim it was protecting the identity of a confidential source from public disclosure after two individuals publicly pleaded guilty in the case.

She was referencing the August 2022 guilty pleas of Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander to conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Both await sentencing.

The pleas came two years after Harris and Kurlander — two Florida residents who are not employed by Project Veritas — discovered that Ashley Biden, the president’s daughter, had stored items including a diary at a friend’s Delray Beach, Florida, house.

They said they initially hoped to sell some of the stolen property to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign, but a representative turned them down and told them to take the material to the FBI, prosecutors say.

Eventually, Project Veritas paid the pair $20,000 apiece to deliver the diary containing “highly personal entries,” a digital storage card with private family photos, tax documents, clothes and luggage to New York, prosecutors said.

Project Veritas was not charged with any crime. The group has said its activities were newsgathering and were ethical and legal.

Two weeks ago, Hannah Giles, chief executive of Project Veritas, quit her job, saying in a social media post she had “stepped into an unsalvageable mess — one wrought with strong evidence of past illegality and post financial improprieties.” She said she’d reported what she found to “appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

Lichtman said in an email on behalf of Project Veritas and the people whose residences were raided: “As for the continued investigation, the government isn’t seeking any prison time for either defendant who claims to have stolen the Ashley Biden diary, which speaks volumes in our minds.”

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1st Amendment claim struck down in case focused on diary of Biden’s daughter