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Washington Times asks federal court to force Coast Guard to return all seized records

A Washington newspaper has asked a federal judge to force the Coast Guard to return any documents and copies of records it seized from a reporter while searching her home last summer as part of a gun investigation involving her husband.

Lawyers for The Washington Times and former reporter Audrey Hudson, now a freelance journalist, filed the 66-page motion Thursday in federal court in Maryland. The motion also asks that lawyers for Hudson and the newspaper be allowed to question a Coast Guard Investigative Service agent about what information from the reporter's files may have been shared with other government officials.

According to Hudson and court records, Special Agent Miguel Bosch seized Hudson's records in August while he was at her Maryland home with state police investigators searching for guns and related items owned by her husband, a civilian Coast Guard employee.

The filing is directed at the Homeland Security Department. The Coast Guard is part of the department.

Homeland Security declined to comment Thursday.

The Coast Guard said the records were returned several weeks after the search after officials determined that Hudson had obtained the records marked "law enforcement sensitive" though a public records request.

The seizure came amid ongoing criticism of the Obama administration's efforts to find leaks in the administration and the targeting of journalists as part of those leak investigations. It happened a month after Attorney General Eric Holder toughened the Justice Department's own rules for seizing reporters' phone records, notes or emails using federal subpoenas or search warrants.

Hudson said the seized files contained notes and other records related to stories she wrote about the Federal Air Marshals program while she was a reporter at the Times in the mid-2000s. She said Bosch, who has declined to discuss the case, asked whether she wrote a series of stories critical of the program in the mid-2000s and Bosch identified himself to her as a former air marshal official. Bosch lists his previous service with that agency on his publicly accessible LinkedIn profile.

"It's unacceptable for law enforcement to have taken these records in the first place, especially when they had nothing to do with the investigation at hand or the search warrant," John Solomon, the newspaper's editor, said Thursday.

The Coast Guard has said Bosch seized the records because he became suspicious when he saw the government documents were labeled "law enforcement sensitive."

At the time, Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz said the records seized were labeled "For Official Use Only" and "Law Enforcement Sensitive" — labels that do not mean they were classified — and appeared out of place. He said the investigator properly documented the seized records, and the documents were returned later.

The search warrant authorized police to search the family's home for guns, ammunition, records of gun purchases, gun-cleaning kits and other gun-related documents.

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