Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • Update: Major Republican Donor Plans to Fund Liz Cheney’s New Organization

    One of the Republican Party's biggest fundraisers confirmed Friday that he plans to help bankroll Keep America Safe, the new political advocacy group started by Liz Cheney to attack President Obama's national-security policies. As reported here Thursday, Keep America Safe will run radio and Web ads criticizing Obama in the home districts of vulnerable Democratic congressmen. "I love Liz Cheney and what she's doing," Mel Sembler, a Florida real-estate magnate said in a telephone interview, adding that he planned to be "as supportive as my budget will allow." Sembler wouldn't discuss numbers. But in his case those resources are considerable. A former finance chairman for the Republican National Committee who later served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Italy (and chairman of the Scooter Libby Defense Trust), Sembler has pumped at least $456,605 into political races over the past 12 years. Sembler has long been close to the Che...
  • Keep America Safe: A Family Affair

    It's no coincidence that just as Dick Cheney began his speech Wednesday night slamming President Obama for "dithering" on Afghanistan, a link to his talk shot up on the Web site of a new political advocacy group—the one being run by his daughter, Liz Cheney.  ...
  • Feds Crack Down on 'Robin Hood' Drug Cartel

    Attorney General Eric Holder announced this morning a massive nationwide crackdown against members of a bizarre Mexican drug cartel that officials say operates like a “quasi-religious” cult. In just the last few days, federal drug agents have arrested 303 U.S. members or associates of  La Familia Michoacána—a fanatically ruthless organization that some officials say may be the fastest growing and most dangerous of all the Mexican cartels. All told, 1,186 La Familia associates have been arrested as part of a 44-month operation dubbed Project Coronado. Unlike its cartel rivals, La Familia is motivated as much by religious zeal as it is by criminal profit. Its members pass out Bibles, use their drug proceeds to benefit the poor, and study the works of John Eldredge, a charismatic and staunchly conservative Colorado evangelist. Eldredge does not preach violence and has no connection to La Familia, officials say. But the cartel apparently is taken with his muscular theology, which tea...
  • Will the 'Merchant of Death' Walk?

    U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly nervous that notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout may soon be released from a Thai jail due in part to a pressure campaign by the Russian government aimed at blocking his extradition to the U.S. to stand trial on weapons-trafficking charges. To see some of the weapons the United States uses to maintain military superiority over groups like the FARC, check out this slideshow. For more on Russia, look at amazing color photos taken during the time of the tsar, a century ago. You can also read Mark Hosenball’s report on Iran seeking nuclear technology, and Michael Isikoff’s expose on Obama adviser David Axelrod’s firm’s contract with a Ukrainian presidential candidate on Declassified.
  • Firm With Obama Ties Cashes in Overseas

    After helping to elect Barack Obama, a group of the president's top campaign strategists moved quickly last spring to capitalize on their success as the new masters of the political universe: they flew off to Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, to sign a lucrative contract to advise Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on her race for that country's presidency.The arrangement between AKPD Media, the powerhouse political consulting firm founded by senior White House aide David Axelrod (who no longer works with the firm), and Tymoshenko, a billionaire business tycoon once dubbed "the gas princess," has so far gotten no attention in the U.S. press. But it has raised more than a few eyebrows in the Ukraine and among rival political consultants in the U.S. who charge it potentially poses some of the same kind of ethically problematic entanglements that Obama repeatedly denounced during the campaign.Nor has it been without problems for AKPD. After dispatching a team of operatives...
  • State Department Backs Off Grants to Kaddafi’s Kids

    UPDATE, 8:30 PM: After getting complaints from Congress─and an inquiry from NEWSWEEK─the State Department backed away Thursday from awarding foreign-aid funds to two foundations headed by the children of Libyan dictator Muammar Kaddafi. A senior State Department official said that department officials were "reworking" a $2.5 million foreign-aid earmark for Libya that, according to a memo to Congress sent last week and reported by NEWSWEEK on Thursday afternoon, was to include $400,0000 for two foundations─one headed by Kaddafi's son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, and another headed by his daughter. The State official said the funds were to be used for "democracy and governance" programs in Libya and explained the initial designations for the two Kaddafi-related organizations by saying in an e-mail: "In Libya, there are no independent NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], so we are somewhat limited in terms of our civil outreach." However, the official ...
  • Critics Unimpressed With Holder's New State-Secrets Policy

    Attorney General Eric Holder got plenty of attention Wednesday for announcing a new policy that is supposed to “strengthen public confidence” when the Justice Department invokes “state secrets” to shut down lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by the CIA or other U.S. government agencies. ...
  • Obama Avoiding Kaddafi

    The U.S. government's policy of "normalizing" relations with Muammar Kaddafi─once touted as one of President Bush's major foreign-policy achievements and continued by President Obama─looked more embarrassing than ever on Wednesday when the erratic Libyan leader delivered a bizarre talk to the United Nations defending the Taliban and suggesting Israel was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy....
  • Relations With Libya Continue to Thaw

    The move to normalize relations between the U.S. and Libya accelerates next month when Muammar Kaddafi makes his first-ever trip to America to address the U.N. The arrival of Kaddafi is already creating problems for New York security officials: he travels with a massive, heated Bedouin tent. Libyan officials recently asked permission for Kaddafi to pitch it in Central Park. "The location for the tent is still an open question," says a senior State Department official who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. (One alternative: coax Kaddafi, and his retinue of female bodyguards, to pitch the tent on Libyan-owned property in New Jersey.)The prospect of the Libyan leader on U.S. soil is angering families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which the U.S. long ago pinned on Kaddafi's government. "On the political world stage, he should be a laughingstock, except for the fact that he's got blood on his hands," says Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of...
  • Gitmo Woes

    White House officials last week tried to downplay their decision to postpone by six months a key report on what to do with Guantánamo detainees when the facility is shut down. But the delay reflects the daunting political obstacles facing President Obama as he struggles to meet his pledge to close the prison by January. Only a few weeks ago, the White House had considered a grand rollout of its Gitmo plans with a joint appearance on Capitol Hill by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CENTCOM Cmdr. David Petraeus. But the president's aides concluded that a briefing would likely backfire, diverting attention from health care and giving Republicans fresh ammunition. "There was no good reason to put it out there and have it attract fire," says a senior administration official who asked not to be identified talking about the internal deliberations. The White House announced last week's report delay in a late-afternoon press briefing that was embargoed...
  • Holder’s Probe Has Its Critics

    NEWSWEEK's disclosure that attorney General Eric Holder Jr. may appoint a prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse has revived tensions in the Obama administration about how to deal with Bush-era controversies. CIA Director Leon Panetta and other agency officials were blindsided, and say Holder is spinning his wheels: they argue that the CIA inspector general's report, which the A.G. told associates "shocked" him, was delivered to the Justice Department more than five years ago. "This has all been reviewed and dealt with before," says Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman.After the IG report reached Justice, a task force was set up in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria, Va., that reviewed about 20 criminal referrals of detainee abuse sent over by the CIA and military criminal investigators. Officials familiar with the referrals have said they were horrific: one involves allegations that a naked prisoner in CIA custody in Afghanistan froze to death after being left in a prison known...
  • Michael Isikoff's Questions for A.G. Eric Holder

    Eric Holder's apparent movement toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate Bush-era interrogation techniques has raised quite a stir. NEWSWEEK's Michael Isikoff has some questions for the A.G.
  • White House Rankled by Recovery.gov

    As the political battle over the Obama administration's stimulus plan escalates, Earl Devaney, the veteran inspector general charged with monitoring spending, is moving to establish his independence. Since becoming chair of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board, Devaney has taken down a video of President Barack Obama from recovery.gov, the official Web site set up to track stimulus dollars. He's also mandated that the names of cabinet members not be mentioned—only their departments. "I'm trying to keep myself and the board out of the politics of this thing," he says.As a result, the White House recently created the dueling whitehouse.gov/recovery, described as a Web site that will "tell the story of the nation's road to recovery." It's complete with a presidential video, photos of Vice President Joe Biden (who oversees the recovery effort), and a "recovery blog" on which administration officials post boosterish stories about "exciting" recovery successes. "As the Vice...
  • Obama: Not Keeping Promise of Transparency

    As a senator, Barack Obama denounced the Bush administration for holding "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. But last week public-interest groups were dismayed when his own administration rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for Secret Service logs showing the identities of coal executives who had visited the White House to discuss Obama's "clean coal" policies. One reason: the disclosure of such records might impinge on privileged "presidential communications." The refusal, approved by White House counsel Greg Craig's office, is the latest in a series of cases in which Obama officials have opted against public disclosure. Since Obama pledged on his first day in office to usher in a "new era" of openness, "nothing has changed," says David -Sobel, a lawyer who litigates FOIA cases. "For a president who said he was going to bring unprecedented transparency to government, you would certainly expect more than the recycling of old Bush secrecy...
  • A New Fight Over Nixon and Watergate

    The war over Watergate never ends. The latest battle is over a decision by the Nixon Presidential Library to commemorate this week's 37th anniversary of the Watergate break-in by inviting an especially provocative speaker: John Dean, the former White House lawyer who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after testifying about his boss's role in the cover-up. The invitation from the library—which is now run by the National Archives—has outraged Nixon's dwindling loyalists, who have mounted a lobbying campaign to get the event canceled. "This is in poor taste," says Robert Odle, a former Nixon communications aide. "It's like having Monica Lewinsky speak at the Clinton library on the anniversary of President Clinton's impeachment."The privately run Nixon Foundation, whose board members include Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Nixon's daughters, Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox, is spearheading the anti-Dean campaign. In recent weeks it has sent letters to all the living...
  • US Attorney Fitzgerald Fights a Book Publication

    Patrick Fitzgerald may be the most feared prosecutor in the country, but even as he's racked up headlines for big-name convictions (Scooter Libby) and indictments (Rod Blagojevich), the hard-charging U.S. attorney from Chicago has been waging a private crusade: trying to kill a book he believes maligns his reputation. In the past year and a half, Fitzgerald has written four letters to HarperCollins—owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.—demanding it "cease publication" and "withdraw" copies of Triple Cross, a 2006 book by ex–TV newsman Peter Lance that criticizes Fitzgerald's handling of terror cases in New York in the 1990s. Fitzgerald raised the temperature even more last week, aiming to halt a paperback version. "To put it plain and simple," he wrote in a June 2 letter obtained by NEWSWEEK, "if in fact you publish the book this month and it defames me or casts me in a false light, HarperCollins will be sued."Media experts say Fitzgerald's letters, written on personal stationery and...
  • Chinese Uighurs and Obama's Gitmo Problem

    As part of their efforts to shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center, Obama Administration officials were poised in late April to make a bold, stealthy move: they instructed the U.S. Marshals Service to prepare an aircraft and a Special Ops group to fly two Chinese Uighurs, and up to five more on subsequent flights, from Gitmo to northern Virginia for resettlement. In a conference call overseen by the National Security Council, Justice and Pentagon officials had been warned that any public statements about Gitmo transfers would inflame congressional Republicans, according to a law-enforcement official who asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations. Then on May 1, -Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf got tipped off. Furious, he fired off a public letter to President Obama, charging that the release of the Uighurs—Muslim separatists opposed to the Chinese government—could "directly threaten the security of the American people." White House officials were not happy. One...
  • Fallout From a Libyan Terrorist's Death

    The Obama Administration is pressing the Libyan government to explain the reported prison death of a former CIA detainee—an incident that U.S. officials fear could reopen questions about the agency's "extraordinary rendition" program and further complicate the president's plans to shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center. According to human-rights groups, the body of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi—once one of the U.S. government's prize captives—was turned over to family members last week after they were told he had committed suicide at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison by hanging himself with a bedsheet. But U.S. officials are skeptical about the supposed suicide, which was first reported in a newspaper owned by Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi's son. Two weeks earlier, al-Libi was visited for the first time by human-rights workers investigating allegations that he had been tortured into making false claims connecting Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda. (Those claims, which al-Libi later...