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Pardoned Kushner pal pleads guilty to cyberstalking charges

The state case mirrored a federal case against Kurson that went away when Trump pardoned him in January 2021 in the final hours of his White House term. Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offenses.

NEW YORK (AP) — A former newspaper editor who received a pardon from former President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Wednesday to state cyberstalking charges in New York in a deal that could eventually see the case dropped.

Manhattan prosecutors said they will withdraw Ken Kurson’s misdemeanor counts of attempted computer trespass and attempted eavesdropping in a year if he performs 100 hours of community service and stays out of trouble.

Kurson, a friend of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, was charged in August with hacking his wife’s online accounts and sending threatening, harassing messages to several people amid heated divorce proceedings in 2015.

Kurson, the editor of the New York Observer when it was owned by Kushner, sometimes monitored his now-ex-wife’s computer activity from his desk at the newspaper’s Manhattan offices, prosecutors said.

The state case mirrored a federal case against Kurson that went away when Trump pardoned him in January 2021 in the final hours of his White House term. Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offenses.

Assistant District Attorney Alona Katz said in court Wednesday that Kurson has gone more than six years without reoffending and has taken steps to prevent such behavior.

As part of Kurson’s plea deal, prosecutors reduced his original felony charges of eavesdropping and computer trespass to misdemeanor attempt charges. If he meets the other terms, prosecutors will exchange those charges for harassment, a low-level offense that is categorized as a violation, not a crime, under state law. A check-in hearing is scheduled for May 18.

A message seeking comment was left with Kurson’s lawyer.

Kurson, of South Orange, New Jersey, was the first person in Trump’s orbit charged by local prosecutors after being pardoned by the former president, though it’s not the first time Manhattan prosecutors have tangled Trump or one of his allies.

Last year, the district attorney’s yearslong criminal investigation into Trump and his business practices led to tax fraud charges against his company — the Trump Organization — and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Manhattan prosecutors previously charged former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort with state crimes in 2019 as a hedge against a possible pardon after he was convicted in federal court over similar mortgage fraud allegations. Trump later pardoned Manafort in the federal case, and the state case was dismissed on double jeopardy grounds.

New York eased double jeopardy protections in 2019 to ensure state prosecutors could pursue charges against anyone granted a presidential pardon for similar federal crimes.

In Kurson’s case, double jeopardy wasn’t an issue because his federal case ended before a conviction or acquittal.

The federal case against Kurson, who now works in the cryptocurrency industry, arose from a background check when Trump offered Kurson a seat in 2018 on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Manhattan prosecutors started investigating Kurson for possible violations of state law once Trump pardoned him.

In explaining the pardon, the Trump White House cited a letter from Kurson’s ex-wife in which she said she never wanted him investigated or arrested and “repeatedly asked for the FBI to drop it.”

According to Manhattan prosecutors, Kurson monitored her computer keystrokes in 2015 and 2016 using spyware, obtaining passwords, and accessing her Gmail and Facebook accounts. In October 2015, prosecutors said, he accessed and then anonymously disseminated her Facebook messages.

According to a criminal complaint, she told police in his New Jersey town that he was “terrorizing her through email and social media, causing her problems at work and in her social life.”

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By MICHAEL R. SISAK Associated Press

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