U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Forbes chief content officer ordered to testify before grand jury in Trump investigation

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 21, 2021
New York, New York

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
September 21, 2021

Chief content officer and editor of Forbes, Randall Lane, was subpoenaed by the Manhattan District Attorney on Sept. 21, 2021, to testify in New York City before a grand jury in an ongoing investigation of former President Donald Trump’s finances.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. first launched the criminal investigation into Trump’s businesses in 2019, after Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump manipulated the value of his wealth when seeking loans and preparing taxes.

Lane, who did not respond to a request for comment on the subpoena, said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he was asked to testify about his 2015 cover story chronicling Trump’s fixation with his estimated wealth and place in the magazine’s ranking of the 400 richest people in America.

In the interview, Lane said he and his attorneys fought hard against the subpoena for three months until a judge ultimately ordered him to testify on Dec. 16, 2021.

“We think this is wrong, we didn’t want to testify, we don’t want to testify,” Lane said. “Think about the precedent that’s set here — how do you have an autonomous press if you’re supposed to testify about the people you cover regularly?”

Lane wrote in Forbes that the testimony lasted about 20 minutes. He answered questions strictly on the accuracy of previously reported stories, he said, including his reporting on Trump’s history with the Forbes 400 list and the methodology used to determine who the magazine names the nation’s richest people.

“To be clear, the original story transparently reported what Trump told us six years ago,” Lane wrote. “We revealed no new information during the testimony. If we were sitting on anything newsworthy, we would have already shared that with our readers.”

Lane added that while his testimony was limited in scope and mostly to “yes or no” answers, the order sets a dangerous precedent with the “creeping use of subpoenas to undermine a free press” and highlighted the recent subpoena of freelance photojournalist Amy Harris by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riots on the Capitol.

“Reporters and prosecutors both serve the public, but in different ways. The latter shouldn’t trample on the efficacy of the former.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].