U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Radio correspondent subpoenaed, testifies in Oath Keepers criminal trial

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 15, 2022

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
August 15, 2022

On the Media correspondent Micah Loewinger was subpoenaed on Aug. 15, 2022, to testify in a criminal trial against multiple individuals involved in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He took the stand in the case two months later.

In a May 2023 report for OTM, Loewinger said that on Jan. 6 he was monitoring a conversation about the Stop the Steal rally on a push-to-talk walkie-talkie cellphone app called Zello and recorded real-time chatter with members of the Oath Keepers. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the militia movement as “one of the largest far-right antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.”

Loewinger also published some details from the recording in an article for The Guardian and spoke on 60 Minutes about how the app was used to mobilize the attack on the Capitol.

A few months after the riot, Loewinger said he was contacted about the recording by a Department of Justice attorney helping to lead the criminal prosecution against the Oath Keepers.

“I thought maybe if I got this guy on the phone, I might be able to glean some useful information about the investigation that would help my own reporting, maybe even a juicy scoop,” Loewinger reported on OTM.

But when the prosecutor told him that the lead FBI agent was also interested in speaking with him, Loewinger said he became concerned they would use the Zello tape as a pretense to seize his phone and computer to gain access to his interviews and notes concerning the insurrection.

After consulting with colleagues at WNYC, which produces OTM, Loewinger posted the full, nearly 2 1⁄2-hour-long recording online so he wouldn’t have to act as a middleman. The prosecutor told Loewinger, however, that to use the recording as evidence in the trial someone would have to testify vouching for its authenticity.

“As the person who made the recording, I was the only one who could do it,” Loewinger said. “When the DOJ asked if I would testify voluntarily, my lawyer declined on my behalf, pointing to the importance of journalistic independence. Hence, the subpoena.”

After weighing the possibility of fighting the subpoena and the risk of imprisonment were he to refuse to comply, Loewinger said he “begrudgingly” testified.

Loewinger took the stand on Oct. 17, according to Courthouse News. Daily Kos reporter Brandi Buchman tweeted live from the courtroom that afternoon, writing on Twitter that the correspondent testified for approximately half an hour, describing how Zello works and how he captured the recording.

Separately, Loewinger noted In his report for OTM that when meeting with the lead prosecutor and an FBI agent, they asked him about records they had obtained from Zello, including details of when he used the app and whom he had messaged in the lead up to Jan. 6, 2021.

“Maybe I should know better, but I was shocked to see just how easy it was for the government to access some of the personal data related to my reporting,” Loewinger said.

Loewinger declined to comment when reached by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The Tracker was unable to confirm whether a subpoena was issued to Zello for Loewinger’s records.

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