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Top McGreevey Donor Pleads Guilty

A major donor to embattled Gov. James E. McGreevey pleaded guilty Wednesday to tax violations and charges stemming from a witness-tampering scheme in which he was accused of having a prostitute seduce his own brother-in-law.

Real estate mogul Charles Kushner pleaded guilty in federal court to 18 charges, including retaliating against a federal witness and violating campaign finance laws. He also pleaded guilty to 16 counts of filing false tax returns through various real estate partnerships.

Kushner, flanked by his two attorneys, stood before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares and answered a nearly hourlong series of questions.

The plea deal does not require Kushner to cooperate with investigators.

It's the latest scandal to befall McGreevey, who announced last week that he would step down as governor after disclosing that he had engaged in a homosexual affair.

McGreevey is facing rising pressure from both sides of the political aisle to resign before his self-imposed deadline of Nov. 15. Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine had begun to explore the idea of running to replace the governor, but now says he will not actively seek to run in a special election.

Corzine said McGreevey has assured him that he intends to serve through Nov. 15, in which case a special election would not be held. The Democratic governor gave that resignation date last week, when he announced he is gay and said he was stepping down because he had an affair with another man.

"The governor made clear in our conversation his absolute intent to serve until Nov. 15, 2004. I accept that decision as final," Corzine said in a statement.

"In light of the governor's position, I want to make clear that my priority is to serve the people of New Jersey in the United States Senate," he said.

Some Democrats had joined Republicans in urging McGreevey to resign before Sept. 3, the cutoff date for holding a special election to complete the governor's term, which ends in January 2006.

When he announced last week that he was gay, McGreevey said he planned to step down Nov. 15. By staying in office beyond Sept. 3, he would stave off the possibility of a special election Nov. 2 to fill the balance of his term, which expires in January 2006.

Former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman added her voice to the chorus of those demanding McGreevey step down immediately. "The minute you announce that you're going to resign, you're a lame duck and it becomes increasingly impossible to get anything done," she said.

McGreevey on Tuesday continued to resist renewed pressure to leave before November, and administration officials discounted charges that he could not effectively govern between now and then.

"Everybody who knows Gov. McGreevey knows he is a hard worker; he's been anxious to get back to work," spokesman Micah Rasmussen said.

If there is an election, several Republicans have expressed an interest in running, and party leaders are looking to veterans like Whitman or Tom Kean, a former two-term governor.

Kean, who now heads the Sept. 11 Commission, said he is not interested in running again. "I'm doing this now, not that," Kean said after a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington.

Whitman did not expressly rule out running in a special election. "I think it really depends on who's running on the other side," she said.

Meanwhile, attention focused again on McGreevey's acknowledgment of an extramarital affair.

U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said he was investigating the possibility of criminal wrongdoing, but he would not specify whether his office was looking into misconduct by McGreevey or claims of an extortion attempt by the man.

McGreevey did not name the man in his news conference, but two sources close to the governor, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was an Israeli man, Golan Cipel, who served as homeland security adviser to McGreevey in 2002. Cipel maintained he is not gay and denied any consensual relationship, saying he was the victim of sexual harassment.

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