WASHINGTON -- Lane Hudson had no idea he would bring down a congressman when he sat in his living room and turned on his laptop one Sunday morning nearly seven weeks ago.
The former congressional aide, who is gay, had been railing for weeks on his anonymous blog against congressmen who sexually prey on young people. But that day in late September, he decided to post a series of suggestive e-mail exchanges between Rep. Mark Foley and a former male congressional page.
"I thought, here we go. Let's see what happens," Hudson, 29, said in a recent interview.
Within days, he had his answer.
Foley, a six-term Florida Republican, resigned in disgrace. And Hudson had launched the biggest Washington sex scandal since Monica Lewinsky.
Hudson remained anonymous throughout the fall as the scandal raged and GOP leaders complained of a Democratic conspiracy. Then, two weeks ago, he was unmasked by bloggers, who identified him as an organizer for a national gay rights organization. Hudson was fired.
On the terrace of a hotel in Miami Beach, where he went to escape the political storm, Hudson for the first time talked publicly about his role in the Internet-fueled scandal.
The South Carolina Democrat is occasionally defensive, fiercely partisan and politically ambitious. And he nurses a bitterness at what he says is a corrupt environment in the capital that protects the powerful.
"It's the Washington culture that allowed this to happen," he said.
Hudson, who will not say where he got the e-mails, shared them with the Los Angeles Times in July. He posted them anonymously in September, he said, frustrated that the paper was continuing to research the story and had not published an article.
Hudson's rise to political muckraker and minor Web celebrity did not happen overnight. He has been working phones and knocking on doors for Democratic candidates since his mother took him to volunteer for a relative of his second-grade teacher who was running for the South Carolina Legislature.
Hudson volunteered for candidates through high school and college. But he couldn't get to the center of the action in Washington.
He moved north in 2001 to work for Sen. Fritz Hollings, South Carolina's last Democratic senator, but didn't stay long.
Hudson tried jobs at an Episcopal school in Washington and a bank in Charleston, S.C. In 2004, he went to Wisconsin to work for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign.
This summer, Hudson moved back to Washington.
Hudson won't identify the source of the e-mails, saying only that they "weren't hard to come by." Since the scandal broke, it has become clear that numerous media outlets, Republican House leaders, a government reform group and the FBI had them.
Foley's messages - all to a former page from Louisiana - were not sexually explicit. But in one, the gay congressman asked the boy for a photo and, in another, commented that a different former page was "in really great shape."
Hudson said he knew immediately that something wasn't right.
Eleven years earlier, as an 18-year-old congressional intern, Hudson had been approached by Foley at a Capitol Hill bar, he said. The congressman asked Hudson for his e-mail address, and started sending him invitations to drinks and meals.
"Honestly, I had forgotten about the whole incident," Hudson said. But this summer, a former page mentioned in a casual conversation that Foley "hit on him all the time."
"It kind of clicked in my head," Hudson said. "I asked another friend who had been a page. I heard the same kind of story and realized that this guy is just a real creep."
Hudson contacted the Los Angeles Times. And, without disclosing his plan to the Times, he started an anonymous blog he titled, "Stop Sex Predators."
"The blog was my back-up," Hudson explained recently. "The blogosphere isn't subject to the same rules as the Washington culture, as the mainstream media."
At just after 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, Hudson put up the Foley e-mails.
By Wednesday, Wonkette, a popular Washington gossip site, had linked to Hudson's blog. On Thursday, ABC News posted an article on its Web site.
And Friday, after the network confronted Foley with a series of more sexually explicit instant messages between Foley and a different former page, Foley resigned.
Hudson was deluged with e-mails from journalists and others trying to find out who he was and what he knew.
Hudson said he got warnings that he should watch his back. He scaled back his Internet postings. And then, someone got him.
Tracking Hudson's Internet profile, a blogger traced him to Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay political organization.
On Oct. 25, the group fired him. (HRC vice president David Smith praised Hudson's work, but said he violated policy by using an HRC computer to work on his blog).
Hudson flew to New York and then to Miami.
"You know, I had no interest in being public about this," he said ruefully last weekend from Miami Beach. "This was about exposing someone who was a sexual predator. And that's it."
Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.