Audrey Hudson’s husband had just left for work on August 6 when suddenly, her dog began barking. The nationally-known journalist walked over to the curtains and peeked outside to discover her Chesapeake Bay home was surrounded by law enforcement officers wearing full body armor.
The phone rang. It was her husband.
“I’m in the driveway,” he said. “The police are here. Open the door.”
And so began Hudson’s nightmare – held captive by armed agents of the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security as they staged a pre-dawn raid in search of unregistered firearms and a “potato gun.”
But instead of taking the potato gun, agents seized unrelated government documents and notes from the former Washington Times journalist.
Agents took Hudson’s records during a search for guns and related items owned by her husband, a civilian Coast Guard employee. They also confiscated her legally registered firearms, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The armed agents held Hudson and her husband in the kitchen as they searched their home. At some point, one of the agents asked if she was the same person who had written a series of stories critical of the Federal Air Marshal program in the mid-2000s.
Hudson did indeed author those stories for The Washington Times.
“Those stories were embarrassing to the agency,” she told me.
It wasn’t until five weeks after the pre-dawn raid that Hudson realized agents had taken her private documents – documents that were not listed on the search warrant. At the time she was told that “miscellaneous documents” had been taken.
“I got a call from Homeland Security and they told me I could come pick up the documents,” she said. “The search warrant did not allow them to walk out with those documents. They clearly violated the search warrant.”
It appears the agents were on a fishing expedition. Hudson tells me her home is filled with boxes and boxes of files.
“But they only took five files – and all five had to do with the Federal Air Marshal stories,” she said.
The Coast Guard told The Associated Press its investigator was suspicious that the government documents in her possession were labeled “law enforcement sensitive.” However, they were returned after concluding Hudson had obtained them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
But that doesn’t explain why the Coast Guard took her personal, handwritten notes. Nor does it explain why the Coast Guard accessed her personal Facebook page.
“I think they found a great way to get into my house and get a hold of my confidential notes and go through every other file in my office,” she said.
The Washington Times said Friday it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.
“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said.
The Coast Guard defended their actions. A spokesman said the warrant authorized police to search the family’s home for guns, ammunition, records of gun purchases, gun cleaning kits and other gun-related documents.
It should be noted that neither Hudson nor her husband have been arrested and no charges have been filed.
“We have absolutely no idea what this is all about,” Hudson told me.
I’ve got a pretty good idea. It’s about the federal government trying to intimidate an American journalist.
The Obama administration has a history of targeting journalists in their effort to root out leaks. The Associated Press noted that the raid on Hudson’s home came one month after Attorney General Eric Holder toughened the Justice Department’s rules for seizing reporters’ phone records, notes or emails using federal subpoenas or search warrants.
“This really can’t stand,” Hudson told me. “You cannot come into a journalist’s home under false pretenses with a bogus warrant and just waltz out with confidential files.”
So if you’re doing the constitutional math, I’d say the Obama administration has violated the Hudson family’s first, second and fourth amendment rights.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that state police and federal officers would come into my house at 4:30 in the morning to take my files without a federal subpoena,” she said.
It’s really not all that surprising the Obama administration would use a potato gun to trample the constitutional rights of an American citizen.
It’s a perfect tool for shredding potatoes – and the U.S. Constitution.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.