The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kushner friend Ken Kurson charged in N.Y. eavesdropping case after Trump pardon

From right to left, Ken Kurson, Jared Kushner and Joseph Meyer mark the New York Observer’s 25th anniversary in 2013 at the Four Seasons in New York. (Evan Agostini/Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

NEW YORK — Ken Kurson, a close friend of former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, was charged Wednesday in a state eavesdropping and computer-trespass case months after receiving a federal pardon while facing similar harassment allegations.

The former New York Observer editor’s arrest marks what is likely the first instance of a local prosecutor pursuing state-level charges against a person after that individual was given a pass by Trump for the same alleged conduct that federal authorities had pursued. A president’s clemency grants apply only in federal cases.

“We will not accept presidential pardons as get-out-of-jail-free cards for the well-connected in New York,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in announcing Kurson’s arrest.

Vance’s office is investigating the Trump Organization and its executives. The former president’s company and its Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg have been indicted in a wide-ranging tax fraud scheme. Kurson’s case is unrelated to that matter.

Kurson, 52, appeared briefly before a Manhattan judge Wednesday. He was handcuffed during the arraignment and later released without bail.

Kurson was ordered to return to court Sept. 28. He and his attorney, Marc Mukasey, declined to speak to the media as they left the courthouse.

At the time of his first arrest by federal authorities in Brooklyn, Mukasey called his client “an honorable man” and said the case was “hardly the stuff of a federal criminal prosecution.”

Trump family friend Ken Kurson charged in New York stalking case

A political consultant who co-authored a book with Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, Kurson made headlines in October when he was accused of stalking his wife years prior while the couple was going through a divorce.

Prosecutors handling the state case described a new narrative Wednesday in which Kurson allegedly used spyware between September 2015 and March 2016 to monitor his then-wife, obtaining her passwords so he could access her Gmail and Facebook accounts. His former wife, to whom he was still married at the time, told police in South Orange, N.J., that Kurson “terrorized her through email and social media causing her problems at work and in her social life,” according to his criminal complaint.

Kurson is accused of spying on her computer from the Observer Media Group’s office in Manhattan while serving as editor of the publication, which was formerly owned by Kushner, according to court papers.

Using tracking software called WebWatcher, Kurson allegedly monitored keystrokes and then private communications, including between his wife and a friend who worked with her at a summer camp, authorities contend. Transcripts of their Facebook chats were sent to the camp’s director, according to the complaint, which does not disclose the nature of the conversations.

Kurson also is accused of trying to cover his tracks by contacting customer support at WebWatcher to evaluate how he could delete the software undetected. “I need to uninstall it PERFECTLY,” he wrote to the company on Oct. 17, 2015, court documents say. “So that not even an expert can detect that it had been there.”

The intrusions were uncovered during an FBI background check while Trump was in office, as Kurson was being considered for a federal job.

At the end of most presidencies, one of the last things a president does is issue pardons. Here's how past presidents have exercised this power. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Kurson’s pardon in January was among a massive wave of pardons and commutations issued by Trump during his last hours at the White House.

Also pardoned was Stephen K. Bannon, a political provocateur and former adviser to the president, who was accused by federal authorities of pocketing more than $1 million from private charitable donors who shared Trump’s desire to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Bannon’s alleged accomplices in the case did not receive a pardon, and their cases are ongoing.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is also investigating Bannon in connection with those allegations. Bannon has maintained he did nothing wrong.