U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Former Fox News reporter subpoenaed in defamation lawsuit

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 2020

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
January 1, 2020

In the early hours of July 10, 2016, Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer with the Democratic National Committee, was fatally shot while walking to his home in Washington, D.C. His death, while unsolved, is believed to be the result of a robbery gone wrong. It quickly, however, became a flash point for conspiracy theories: that Rich had been behind a DNC email dump to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, and that he’d effectively been assassinated because of it. None of the claims have ever been substantiated.

On March 26, 2018, Rich’s brother, Aaron, filed a defamation suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against a slew of defendants — Texas businessman and then-frequent Fox News guest Ed Butowsky, the Washington Times, America First Media Group and its founder, Matt Couch — who he’d alleged had shown a “reckless disregard for the truth” and falsely linked both himself and his brother to the email leak.

During the course of three years of litigation, attorneys for both sides collectively subpoenaed nearly a dozen news outlets and members of the press. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents all subpoena requests individually; Find a complete overview of the known subpoenas for this case in the blog post, “Nearly a dozen journalists, outlets and third parties subpoenaed in defamation suit.”

In January 2021, both Couch and Butowsky publicly apologized and retracted prior claims made about the Rich brothers, though Butowsky deleted his statement of contrition almost immediately, according to Law & Crime. Couch and Rich reached a settlement agreement on Jan. 19; Butowsky and Rich reached an agreement on March 22. The lawsuit was terminated officially when District Judge Richard Leon granted Rich’s motions to dismiss the charges against the defendants on March 29. The details of the settlement agreements were not made public.

Adam Housley | Former Fox News reporter

In May 2017, Housley was involved in publishing an article with Malia Zimmerman that alleged Seth Rich's connection to stealing and sharing DNC emails with WikiLeaks. Fox News retracted the article a week later. Zimmerman was also subpoenaed in January 2020.

  • January 2020: Rich serves Housley with a subpoena sometime around Jan. 7, the date he serves a similar subpoena to Zimmerman. Fox and Zimmerman quickly move for a protective order barring Zimmerman’s deposition on the basis of reporter’s privilege, and the depositions of both Fox reporters are placed on hold until District Judge Richard Leon reaches a ruling on the motion.
  • March 25, 2020: Leon denies Fox and Zimmerman’s motion for a protective order.
  • April 23, 2020: Leon orders that, given his March 25 ruling, the depositions of both Housley and Zimmerman may proceed.

Status of Subpoena

  • With the case closed, any outstanding subpoenas would become moot. Housley did not respond to the Tracker’s request for comment via Twitter direct message, and it is unclear from the court filings alone whether his deposition was completed. Therefore, the Tracker is listing the status of the subpoena as “unknown” until further information is available.

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