The District Attorney leading an investigation on President Donald Trump ultimately won a battle to compel two Forbes staff members to testify in front of a grand jury.
Chief Content Officer and editor Russel Lane and editor Chase Peterson-Withorn were subpoenaed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Both men had written stories on Trump’s financial interests and speculations.
Vance’s office charged the Trump Organization and Allen Weisslbarg, its chief financial officer, with illegally dodging tax payments on executive compensation.
As part of the investigation, the DA’s team has subpoenaed records regarding Trump’s hotel, golf clubs, and office buildings. They interviewed an official from Deutsche Bank, “which lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump’s company,” per CNBC.
“The demand for the documents shows a renewed focus by investigators from the DA’s office on the accuracy of Trump’s statements about the value of his company’s various real estate assets,” stated CNBC.
According to a newly published article from Lane, Forbes fought the subpoena because of the threat it poses to journalism.
“How do we keep an autonomous press when journalists suddenly must testify for or against the subjects they cover?” Lane wrote in his Dec. 17 piece chronicling the issue. “Or manage the chilling effect, when sources of information on matters of public interest worry whether reporters could be dragged into a courtroom—or when journalists hold back, fearful of the resources needed to lawyer up?”
Ultimately, both Lane and Peterson-Whithorn were compelled to testify in front of the grand jury on Dec. 15. The judge overseeing the trial only allowed the testimony to relate to confirmation of the accuracy of the writers’ articles. Peter-son-Whithor testified for about five minutes to answer questions about Trump’s claim that his apartment was 33,000 square feet.
Lane answered questions from Mark Pomerantz, a former mafia prosecutor assisting in the probe, for an estimated 20 minutes.
Pomerantz asked “about Trump’s claims, reported in the 2015 article, that his holdings in Trump Tower were worth five or six times more than the magazine’s $530 million estimate and that his apartment was worth at least twice the $100 million that the magazine valued it at” as well as “ the methodology of the magazine’s list of richest Americans.”
“Yesterday, around the same time I testified, Forbes agreed to become a signatory for a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press letter urging the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack to withdraw its subpoena of a freelance photojournalist, seeking three months of her phone records,” wrote Lane. “Reporters and prosecutors both serve the public, but in different ways. The latter shouldn’t trample on the efficacy of the former.”
Photojournalist Amy Harris, who photographed members of the Proud Boys on Jan 6., filed a lawsuit on Dec. 15 to block her subpoena from the House Jan. 6 Committee. She argued their demand for her phone records violates the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the D.C. Shield law.
While grand jury proceedings are secret, witnesses are not legally prevented from discussing the testimony.
“If we were sitting on anything newsworthy, we would have already shared that with our readers,” said Lane.