U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Podcast producers release unaired materials after subpoena upheld

Incident Details

Date of Incident
December 22, 2021

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
December 22, 2021

After a San Diego federal judge upheld a subpoena seeking unpublished source material, the podcast producers and creators chose to instead publicly release hours of unaired interviews with a military contractor central to a massive U.S. Navy bribery scandal on Dec. 22, 2021.

U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino authorized attorneys for six naval officers charged with criminal bribery to subpoena Audiation, the company that produced the podcast, for all recordings collected while creating “Fat Leonard” on Nov. 18, 2021. The recordings involved Leonard Glenn Francis, a military contractor accused of overcharging the Navy of at least $35 million and bribing uniformed naval officers in one of the worst corruption scandals in Navy history.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sammartino denied a motion to quash the subpoena made by Project Brazen, the creator of the podcast, on Dec. 21. Sammartino stated that the naval officers’ Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights superseded the producers’ First Amendment rights.

“Francis’ believability as a witness will be a crucial determination for the jury as he is the orchestrator and alleged briber of each of the defendants and was closely connected with all of the activities charged in the indictment,” Sammartino wrote in her decision.

Rather than releasing the material to the lawyers, Audiation and Project Brazen released 20 hours of unedited interviews with Francis.

“We disagree with this ruling and believe it sets a bad precedent for media freedom in the U.S.,” Tom Wright, the co-founder of Project Brazen, wrote on Twitter when announcing the release of the recordings. “Our job is to inform the public, as we have done about this huge Navy corruption scandal and the ensuing coverup.”

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