Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • Sources of Confusion

    Who was Bob Novak's source? It's a parlor game any Washington insider or media junkie can play--and most do. Novak, a conservative columnist sometimes called "the Prince of Darkness," was the journalist who kicked off the whole Valerie Plame imbroglio that has obsessed Washington and so far resulted in the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, Scooter Libby, for perjury. It was Novak who identified Plame as the CIA operative who helped send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Africa to check on reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the country of Niger. Depending on whom you believe, the leak was (1) an insidious smear by the White House to retaliate against a critic of the Iraq war or (2) mildly interesting gossip.The game became more intriguing last week when the legendary Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward was dragged in. Woodward revealed that he had been told about Plame and her role before Novak had, but that in...
  • Profiling: How the FBI Tracks Eco-Terror Suspects

    The FBI collected detailed data on political activities and Web postings of suspected members of a tiny environmentalist commune in southern California two years ago as part of a high-profile counterterrorism probe, bureau records show. Facing further new disclosures about the matter, the bureau last week agreed to settle a lawsuit and to pay $100,000 to Josh Connole, a 27-year-old ex-commune member who had been arrested--and later released--on suspicions he was one of the eco-terrorists who had firebombed SUV dealerships in the summer of 2003. But the bureau's rare concession of error, expected to be publicly announced soon, could bring new attention to what civil-liberties groups say is a disturbing trend: the stepped-up monitoring of domestic political activity by FBI counter-terror agents.Connole, an anti-Iraq-war protester, had been living in a Pomona, Calif., vegan commune when a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) targeted him after arson attacks on four nearby Hummer dealers-...
  • Karl Rove: Last-Minute Evidence

    Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's decision not to indict deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove in the CIA leak case followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations between the prosecutor and Rove's defense lawyer, Robert Luskin. On Tuesday afternoon, Fitzgerald and the chief FBI agent on the case, Jack Eckenrode, visited the offices of the D.C. law firm where Luskin works to meet with the defense lawyer. Two sources close to Rove who asked not to be identified because the probe is ongoing said Luskin presented evidence that gave the prosecutor "pause." One small item was a July 11, 2003, e-mail Rove sent to former press aide Adam Levine saying Levine could come up to his office to discuss a personnel issue. The e-mail was at 11:17 a.m., minutes after Rove had gotten off the phone with Matt Cooper--the same conversation (in which White House critic Joe Wilson's wife's work for the CIA was discussed) that Rove originally failed to disclose to the grand jury. Levine, with whom...
  • Karl Rove's Consigliere

    When Karl Rove emerged after four grueling hours before a federal grand jury in Washington last Friday, his lawyer Robert Luskin made one more attempt to figure out just where his client stood. He approached special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald outside the hearing room and asked if Rove's fortunes had changed in the two-year-old inquiry of who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. But Fitzgerald, ever tight-lipped, wasn't giving anything up. He curtly told the lawyer that "no decisions" had been made, Luskin says.That left Luskin, the brainy battle-tested Washington litigator hired to represent the most powerful of the president's men, in a bind. All over Washington, impatient reporters were waiting to be fed. So Luskin--whose shaved head, gold earring and Ducati Monster motorcycle make him something of an odd duck among Washington's A-list attorneys--did what any savvy trial lawyer would do: he tried to spin Fitzgerald's nonanswer to Rove's advantage. In a carefully worded...
  • CIA Leak: Karl Rove and the Case of the Missing E-mail

    The White House's handling of a potentially crucial e-mail sent by senior aide Karl Rove two years ago set off a chain of events that has led special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to summon Rove for a fourth grand jury appearance this week. His return has created heightened concern among White House officials and their allies that Fitzgerald may be preparing to bring indictments when a federal grand jury that has been investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity expires at the end of October. Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, tells NEWSWEEK that, in his last conversations with Fitzgerald, the prosecutor assured Luskin "he has not made any decisions."But lawyers close to the case, who asked not to be identified because it's ongoing, say Fitzgerald appears to be focusing in part on discrepancies in testimony between Rove and Time reporter Matt Cooper about their conversation of July 11, 2003. In Cooper's account, Rove told him the wife of White House critic Joseph Wilson worked at the...
  • The Right: With Friends Like These

    After Sandra Day O'Connor resigned from the Supreme Court in July, the White House reached out to an informal network of conservative lawyers and academics to help build support for the next nominee. The group of about three dozen worked smoothly during the confirmation battle over John Roberts, plotting strategy in conference calls with administration officials and penning newspaper op-eds. But last week members of the "brain trust," as one called it, rebelled. In a string of sometimes testy e-mail exchanges among themselves, the lawyers agonized over the selection of White House counsel Harriet Miers. They also debated vigorously whether they should go public with their dismay, or simply say nothing."We are keeping quiet. And hiding from the media," wrote Abigail Thernstrom, the Bush-designated vice chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a prominent critic of affirmative-action policies, in an e-mail copied to other members of the network. "As for undermining trust in the...
  • CIA LEAK: 'AWKWARD' TALK HELPS FREE MILLER FROM J

    New York Times reporter Judy Miller broke her silence and agreed to testify before a federal grand jury last week. This followed tense, often acrimonious negotiations that began after special Justice Department prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald signaled he intended to reimpanel a new grand jury--a move that could have kept Miller in jail for another year and a half, say two lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks. A federal judge sent Miller to jail on July 8 for refusing to talk about her conversations with her source, who, it was disclosed last week, was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Fitzgerald indicated he would not let the matter drop when the grand jury, investigating the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, expires in late October. Instead, he would keep his long-running probe open with a new grand jury. The sobering prospect spurred fevered negotiations among lawyers to...
  • Delay: Is He Home Free?

    Has Tom DeLay dodged a bullet? Texans for a Republican Majority--a group he organized and raised money for--was indicted last week for soliciting $120,000 in corporate donations to influence state elections. But the indictment makes no mention of DeLay, and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's two-year campaign-fund-raising probe is expected to wind down soon without bringing charges against the House majority leader, according to lawyers close to the case who declined to be identified because of legal sensitivities. Earle doesn't plan to refer evidence to the prosecutor in DeLay's home district either, an Earle spokesman says. DeLay's office released a statement saying he "voluntarily talked" to Earle's office. But one of the lawyers close to the case says DeLay this summer put off attempts by Earle's office to question him, citing scheduling conflicts. Then Earle's office prepared a subpoena--after which DeLay agreed to a secret 90-minute interview in Austin in mid...
  • ABRAMOFF: MORE TROUBLE AHEAD?

    The justice department played hardball last week with former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, in part because of concerns he might flee to Israel. Hours before Abramoff was indicted on fraud charges in Miami last Thursday, FBI agents tried to arrest him at his Maryland home. But he'd already left for Los Angeles. Agents tracked him down on his cell phone and ordered him to surrender to the local FBI office. When Abramoff did, later that day, he was handcuffed, thrown into jail, then released last Friday on a $2.2 million bond.Abramoff's treatment contrasted with that given his co-defendant, Adam Kidan, who was allowed to show up in court on his own. A senior Justice official says one reason was that some of Abramoff's friends and former colleagues have moved to Israel. "There was concern he could relocate to another country," says the official, who asked not to be identified because the matter involves a pending case. Neal Sonnett, Abramoff's lawyer, called the Feds' tactics "mean...
  • EXCLUSIVE: SECRET MEMO--SEND TO BE TORTURED

    An FBI agent warned superiors in a memo three years ago that U.S. officials who discussed plans to ship terror suspects to foreign nations that practice torture could be prosecuted for conspiring to violate U.S. law, according to a copy of the memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. The strongly worded memo, written by an FBI supervisor then assigned to Guantanamo, is the latest in a series of documents that have recently surfaced reflecting unease among some government lawyers and FBI agents over tactics being used in the war on terror. This memo appears to be the first that directly questions the legal premises of the Bush administration policy of "extraordinary rendition"--a secret program under which terror suspects are transferred to foreign countries that have been widely criticized for practicing torture.In a memo forwarded to a senior FBI lawyer on Nov. 27, 2002, a supervisory special agent from the bureau's behavioral analysis unit offered a legal analysis of interrogation techniques...
  • Terror Watch: Void at Justice

    Does a Senate Democrat's desire for answers about alleged Gitmo abuse trump the Justice Department's need to fill an important post?
  • LEAK INVESTIGATION: THE RUSSERT DEAL--WHAT IT REV

    A deal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald cut last year for NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert's testimony may shed light on the emerging White House defense in the Valerie Plame leak case. The agreement between Fitzgerald and NBC avoided a court fight over a subpoena for Russert's testimony about his July 2003 talk with Dick Cheney's top aide, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The deal was not, as many assumed, for Russert's testimony about what Libby told him: it focused on what Russert told Libby. An NBC statement last year said Russert did not know of Plame, wife of ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, or that she worked at the CIA, and "he did not provide that information to Libby." This now appears significant: in pursuing Russert's testimony, Fitzgerald was testing statements by White House aides--reportedly including Libby--that they learned about Wilson's wife from reporters, not classified documents. Libby's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. A source close to Karl Rove,...
  • Terror Watch: Bomb Probe

    As British police uncover new leads, the Blair government is trying to avoid a U.S.-style probe into whether the London attacks could have been prevented.
  • Terror Watch: Worldwide Conspiracy?

    Investigators probing the London bombings are searching for a British suspect who may have ties to other terror plots in the U.K. and America.
  • Terror Watch: Global Plot?

    Investigators are examining whether the explosives used in the London blasts came from foreign military stockpiles. Plus, more on Gitmo interrogations.
  • THE ROVE FACTOR?

    Its legal appeals exhausted, Time magazine agreed last week to turn over reporter Matthew Cooper's e-mails and computer notes to a special prosecutor investigating the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity. The case has been the subject of press controversy for two years. Saying "we are not above the law," Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine decided to comply with a grand-jury subpoena to turn over documents related to the leak. But Cooper (and a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller) is still refusing to testify and faces jail this week.At issue is the story of a CIA-sponsored trip taken by former ambassador (and White House critic) Joseph Wilson to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. "Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews... that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," said Cooper's July 2003 Time online article.Now the...
  • Terror Watch: Turning Up the Heat

    Judith Miller's jailing and Matthew Cooper's testimony could solve the mystery of the Plame case--and embarrass the Bush administration
  • EXCLUSIVE: A SHARP NEW LOOK AT 'MATERIAL WITNESS'

    Since 9/11, the Justice Department has used a little-known legal tactic to secretly lock up at least 70 terror suspects--almost all of them Muslim men--and hold them without charges as "material witnesses" to crimes, in some cases for months. A report to be released this week by two civil-liberties groups finds nearly 90 percent of these suspects were never linked to any terrorism acts, resulting in prosecutors and FBI agents issuing at least 13 apologies for wrongful arrest.The post-9/11 decision to aggressively use "material witness" warrants to detain suspects has been defended by Justice officials as a legitimate tool to root out possible terror cells. (A federal law, though used sparingly in the past, permits detention of witnesses who might have "material" info about a crime--even with no evidence they committed any crimes themselves.) The practice has been shrouded. Citing national security, Justice has refused to disclose virtually any info about these cases, not even...
  • DOCUMENTS: ANTI-GAMBLING FUNDS--FROM GAMBLING?

    The Senate Indian affairs committee is planning to release new e-mails and documents that could cause discomfort in GOP circles. The panel obtained the papers as part of its probe into onetime Washington superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is accused of defrauding his Indian tribal clients. Some documents to be aired at a hearing this week involve GOP activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, two longtime Abramoff pals with close ties to the White House. Norquist's nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform got $1.1 million in 1999 from one of Abramoff's top clients, the Choctaw Indians, who run casinos in Mississippi. Norquist, at the urging of Abramoff and Reed, then sent the money to religious conservative groups fighting pro-gaming efforts in Alabama. (The Choctaws saw the Alabama proposals as a competitive threat.) The deal helped both Abramoff's gambling client and Reed, a public opponent of gambling whose consulting firm was hired by the conservative groups to run the Alabama anti...
  • Terror Watch: Antiterror Victory?

    Swiss prosecutors have decided to pursue a criminal case against a Saudi businessman accused by the United States of financially supporting Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
  • STORM CLOUDS IN CALIFORNIA

    When 20-year-old Hamid Hayat left his home in California a little more than two years ago, he was like a lot of young Americans--aimless and a bit unsure about his future. Rail-thin and addicted to videogames, he lived with his parents in Lodi, Calif., a small farming town south of Sacramento. An amiable ice-cream vendor, his father, Umer Hayat, was known around the neighborhood as Homer, after the "Simpsons" sticker on the back of his truck. But the younger Hayat had trouble finding steady work. So when his mother fell ill with liver disease in 2003, the family traveled back to their native Pakistan, where they sought both treatment for her and a wife for young Hamid. He was no stranger to Pakistan. Though born in California, he'd spent his teen years in Behboodi and Rawalpindi, living with relatives and attending religious schools. Returning to Pakistan as an adult, he struck some relatives there as adrift. He whiled away hours a day watching movies on TV or vegging in front of...
  • THE QUR'AN QUESTION

    What really happened at Guantanamo? Last week, amid the heat of the controversy over NEWSWEEK's retracted story, new details about the issue of alleged mistreatment of the Qur'an emerged.The International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it had provided the Pentagon with confidential reports about U.S. personnel disrespecting or mishandling Qur'ans at Gitmo in 2002 and 2003. Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman, said the Red Cross had provided "several" instances that it believed were "credible." The ICRC report included three specific allegations of offensive treatment of the Qur'an by guards. Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita would not comment on these allegations except to say that the Gitmo commanders routinely followed up ICRC reports, including these, and could not substantiate them. He then gave what is from the Defense Department point of view more context and important new information.It is clear that in 2002, military investigators became frustrated by the...
  • Terror Watch: Consider the Source

    The State Department says Mek is a terror group. Human rights watch says it's a cult. For the White House, Mek is a source of intelligence on Iran.
  • Terror Watch: Friends in High Places

    In a bid to court Muslim voters, top White House and political figures once met regularly with a Florida professor now accused of leading a terror group.
  • FUND-RAISING: TAKE IT TO THE (WEST) BANK

    The pitch from superlobbyist Jack Abramoff was hard to resist: a good way to get access on Capitol Hill, he told his clients a few years ago, was to contribute to a worthy charity he and his wife had just started up. The charity, called the Capital Athletic Foundation, was supposed to provide sports programs and teach "leadership skills" to city youth. Donating to it also had a side benefit, Abramoff told his clients: it was a favored cause of Rep. Tom DeLay.The pitch worked especially well among a group of Indian tribes who, having opened up lucrative gaming casinos, had hired Abramoff to protect their interests in Washington. In 2002 alone, records show, three Indian tribes donated nearly $1.1 million to the Capital Athletic Foundation. But now, NEWSWEEK has learned, investigators probing Abramoff's finances have found some of the money meant for inner-city kids went instead to fight the Palestinian intifada. More than $140,000 of foundation funds were actually sent to the Israeli...
  • Another Lost Opportunity

    A convicted terrorist was providing U.S. officials with very specific information about a terrorist attack three months before 9/11.