U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter John Sepulvado subpoenaed to testify in Bundy occupation trial

Incident Details

Date of Incident
February 16, 2017
Portland, Oregon

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Leader of a group of armed protesters Ammon Bundy talks to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, January 8, 2016. 

— REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
February 16, 2017

Radio journalist John Sepulvado was subpoenaed on Feb. 16, 2017, to testify at trial about an interview he conducted with Ryan Bundy, one of the leaders of the group that forcibly occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Sepulvado conducted that interview while still a journalist at Oregon Public Broadcasting; he later moved to California and now works for San Francisco radio station KQED.

Federal prosecutors first asked Sepulvado in 2016 to voluntarily testify about the interview. He refused, and the Obama administration’s Department of Justice declined to issue a subpoena that would force him to testify.

But that changed under the Trump administration. Shortly after being sworn in as attorney general, Jeff Sessions personally approved the subpoena, which was then served on Sepulvado.

Although the prosecution did not explicitly ask Sepulvado to testify about his confidential sources, Sepulvado later said that defense attorneys looking to discredit his testimony began asking him about his confidential sources.

In a first-person piece for The Portland Mercury, Sepulvado wrote that he believed it was his responsibility to fight the subpoena and protect his sources.

“To violate the trust of my named source, and the audience, by testifying for or against anyone in a criminal trial would erode both my credibility and OPB’s, impeding our ability to report freely under the First Amendment,” he wrote. “My unnamed sources are people who have entrusted me to protect their identity no matter what, in exchange for information of importance to the public.”

On Feb. 24, a federal judge in Portland ruled in Sepulvado’s favor and quashed the subpoena.

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