FAW Public Forum: Media Leak Investigations and the First Amendment

In early June, reports emerged that, under the Trump administration, the Justice Department seized the phone and email records of several reporters. The record seizures did not contain the content of the messages, but showed who contacted whom and when. None of the reporters who were targeted knew that the government had taken their information, let alone why. Those that knew about the record seizures were forced to stay silent due to a court gag order. Unable to find the information it was looking for, the Justice Department abandoned its mission and announced that it plans to change its policies governing media leak investigations.

Join First Amendment Watch and First Amendment Coalition on July 13th at 2 pm EST for a FAW Public Forum conversation with Ellen Nakashima a reporter for The Washington Post, Charlie Savage a reporter for The New York Times, and  Gabe Rottman, director of the Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. We will discuss the history of media leak investigations, the Espionage Act, First Amendment protections for confidential sources, and current efforts to tighten policies regarding when and how federal investigators can seize journalists’ contact records.

 David Synder, executive director of First Amendment Coalition will moderate the panel discussion, and Soraya Ferdman, First Amendment Watch staff writer, will introduce the speakers and moderate the audience Q&A.


This event has passed but you can watch the discussion in the recording below:


Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She covers cybersecurity counterterrorism and intelligence issues. She has probed Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and contacts between aides to President Trump and Russian officials, work which led her and her colleagues to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. She was part of another team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2014 for reporting on the hidden scope of government surveillance and its policy implications. Nakashima was one of the three reporters from the Post who had their phone records seized by the Trump Justice Department as part of a 2020 leak investigation. Read Nakashima’s full bio here.

Charlie Savage is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Washington correspondent for The New York Times. He has written about national security, presidential powers, government surveillance, leak investigations, and the military. Savage has written more than a dozen articles about the Trump Department of Justice’s efforts to seize the communication records of journalists at the Times, Washington Post, and CNN. He has also covered the Biden administration’s response to the seizure scandal, and efforts to reform policies on media leak investigations. Read Savage’s full bio here.

Gabe Rottman is an attorney and the Director of the Reporters Committee’s Technology and Press Freedom Project, where he works extensively on “leak law.” While at the Reporter’s Committee, Rottman has co-authored two amicus briefs on behalf of journalistic sources facing charges under the Espionage Act for alleged leaks, produced a public database of Espionage Act cases, and co-authored an essay on Lawfare Blog that, among other things, argued for stronger protections for journalists in leak investigations. Read Rottman’s full bio here