Fishbowl Five with John Solomon

Washington Times July 17, 2008

Washington Times Editor John Solomon finds himself in the midst of a widening scandal this week involving the potential government harassment of one of TWT‘s former reporters, Audrey Hudson. Hudson and TWT both sued the Department of Homeland Security last Thursday over what they claim was an unconstitutional seizure of confidential documents during a raid on Hudson’s house by Maryland and Federal authorities. The raid was ostensibly aimed at confiscating illegal firearms owned by Hudson’s husband, Paul Flanagan. But somehow, a Department of Homeland Security agent, Miguel Bosch, also ended up seizing some of Hudson’s personal documents, including notes on stories she had written that contained sensitive information, like the names and numbers of sources.

Now Solomon and Hudson want to know why Bosch took the documents in the first place, what he did with them, and who he showed them to. They see the raid and the confiscated documents as yet another example -along with the AP phone tapping scandal and the persecution of Fox’s James Rosen -of the federal government cracking down on reporters to try to get at their sources. FishbowlDC talked with John Solomon over the weekend about the case and got him to answer some questions for the Fishbowl Five. FishbowlDC also reached out to Audrey Hudson for an interview, but were told via a representative that her lawyers recommended against talking to the press at the moment. For more information about the raid and the lawsuit, check out TWT‘s story here.

John Solomon, thanks for talking with us. So why did Maryland State Police and DHS go into Audrey Hudson’s house in the first place?

Thanks for your interest in the story! As far as we can tell –from Audrey and the law enforcement records –they had some questions about gun ownership in the house, and wanted to check what weapons were in the house, and a search warrant specified what evidence they were looking for.  In the process of executing that, they seemed to diverge from the guidance or authority of the search warrant, went into Audrey’s office, and grabbed a set of reporting files that specifically dealt with a series of stories that we had at The Washington Times a few years ago that exposed problems within DHS-specifically its Federal Air Marshall Service. At the time, Audrey didn’t even know they had been taken. She didn’t learn till a month later when they began returning her materials that they had held them for a month and, we later learned, went through them and read them. And so what started as a routine law enforcement matter has somehow turned into a First Amendment concern for us.

So you think the raid was a pretense to get access to those documents?

As a reporter, you try never to make presumptions beyond the facts. What we know is that when the Homeland Security agent got to the home, one of the first things he did was say “Are you the same Audrey Hudson who wrote those stories about the Federal Air Marshals?” So whether he figured it out when he got there, whether he knew that in advance, we don’t know. But when she confirmed that she was, that should have immediately kicked in the First Amendment concerns over reporter privileges. If anything, they should have been more sensitive about what they grabbed from the house that wasn’t covered by the warrant. We have no argument with the Maryland State Police or the DHS doing legitimate law enforcement work, but once they knew they were in a reporter’s home, the idea of going and grabbing those files, to us, is offensive. We want to know: Do they have copies? Have they gleaned any information from them? And have they used them in any way to harm sources, or infringe on the First Amendment further then they already have? That’s the purpose of the law suit.

The Washington Times wants more than just the return of any copies of the documents though, right? You also want to depose a DHS agent, Miguel Bosch.

Right. Our lawyers have requested that we get permission to depose the agent who went there, the one who recognized  Audrey Hudson and asked if she was a reporter, and the one who, by Audrey’s account, grabbed the records and later returned them to her. [We want to] ask him what he did with those records, whom he shared them with, so we can follow the trail and see where that information was misused -if it was –inside of government.

You guys sued the DHS, but the raid was a Maryland State Police action. Do you feel like that might compromise the case? Might a judge say that you’re in the wrong court?

We filed yesterday afternoon in federal court in Greenbelt, MD. We went to federal court even though the warrant was issued in state court. We decided to take this directly to federal  court because the real grievance is with the federal agencies that grabbed these records. They will clearly have jurisdiction, we believe, because it was a federal agency involved and the Constitution is a federal document. We believe it was the correct place to go. We could easily have brought this to the state as well, but the state court would then, most likely, send us to the federal court and say, “Your grievance is with the federal government -take it there.” By all suggestions, it doesn’t appear that Maryland police were aware of or interested in the documents. The only people the evidence log showed were ever interested in the Homeland Security documents and Federal Air Marshal documents were the Homeland Security agent. So I think we filed in the right court.

What is timeline from here on out? How long do you think it will take for you to get the answers you want?

We’ll hear from the court, and see how they issue on the first ruling, which is the request for the government to produce any and all copies and materials they have from these documents. And then the second request will be to depose the federal agent after we learn what is in those documents. So it’s hard to know. The lawyers are much better at predicting  than I am, but clearly this is something that will play out over the next few weeks for sure. I don’t think they’ve scheduled a conference or a hearing yet. As soon as we know, we’ll give you a holler. From our perspective we think it’s a pretty interesting case.

You know, ten years ago I was one of the very first reporters at the beginning of the Bush administration who had his phone record and his mail illegally seized. Phone records by a subpoena  -they grabbed my home phone records in what they’ve now admitted was a search for my sources, and then they grabbed my mail without a warrant, to try to stop the publication of a story that would have embarrassed the government about what they knew about 9/11. Back in 2001,2, and 3, we fought that. They apologized and said they weren’t going to do it again, and here we are a decade later having new instances of this going on: the AP, The Washington Times, there’s the Fox News reporter James Rosen. There’s all sorts of people across all different spectrums of the media that seem to be having the same complaint and grievance that we have .