Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • Politics: Obama’s Lobbyist Connection

    When Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison wanted state lawmakers to back a hefty rate hike two years ago, it took a creative lobbying approach, concocting a new outfit that seemed devoted to the public interest: Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity, or CORE. CORE ran TV ads warning of a "California-style energy crisis" if the rate increase wasn't approved—but without disclosing the commercials were funded by Commonwealth Edison. The ad campaign provoked a brief uproar when its ties to the utility, which is owned by Exelon Corp., became known. "It's corporate money trying to hoodwink the public," the state's Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. What got scant notice then—but may soon get more scrutiny—is that CORE was the brainchild of ASK Public Strategies, a consulting firm whose senior partner is David Axelrod, now chief strategist for Barack Obama.Last week, Obama hit John McCain for hiring "some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington" to run his campaign; Obama's aides...
  • Terrorism: A Tense Impasse In Yemen

    During a Mideast trip earlier this month, FBI Director Robert Mueller made an unpublicized detour to Yemen in order to press an issue of serious concern to Washington: why has the Yemeni government refused to turn over an accused Qaeda terrorist charged in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors? The meeting between Mueller and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not go well, according to two sources who were briefed on the session but asked not to be identified discussing it. Saleh gave no clear answers about the suspect, Jamal al-Badawi, leaving Mueller "angry and very frustrated," said one source, who added that he's rarely seen the normally taciturn FBI director so upset.The fate of Badawi is one of a number of terror-related cases that has generated tension with Yemen. U.S. officials only recently learned that another indicted Cole bomber, Fahed al-Quso, broke out of a Yemeni jail along with Badawi two years ago and remains a free man. Yet...
  • In Rezko Trial, a New Name Surfaces: Karl Rove

    The trial of Chicago developer and political fixer Antoin "Tony" Rezko has been closely watched for any mention of the defendant's onetime friend, Barack Obama. But last week, prosecutors threw a curveball, telling the judge that one of their witnesses is prepared to raise the name of another prominent Washington hand: Karl Rove. Former Illinois state official Ali Ata is expected to testify about a conversation he had with Rezko in which the developer alleged Rove was "working with" a top Illinois Republican to remove the Chicago U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.The allegation, which Rove denies, quickly reverberated in Washington. Democrats in Congress now want to question Ata. They believe he can help buttress their theory that Rove played a key role in discussions that led to the firings of U.S. attorneys at the Justice Department in 2006. The House Judiciary Committee "intends to investigate the facts and circumstances alleged in this testimony," panel chairman Rep. John...
  • It’s So Nice to Be Here

    How Bill's big-dollar foreign buckraking is causing headaches for Hillary's campaign.
  • Justice: Torture Memo Fallout

    With little advance notice, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes quietly resigned at the end of February to take a top legal job at Chevron. But Haynes, a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, remains a key figure in a sweeping Senate probe into allegations of abuses to detainees in Defense Department custody.Haynes was thrust back into the spotlight last week after the disclosure of a March 2003 Justice Department memo concluding that federal laws against torture, assault and maiming would not apply to the overseas interrogation of terror suspects. Haynes requested the memo (which was written by the then Justice Department lawyer John Yoo) and he and his boss, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, later used it to justify harsh interrogation practices on terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay. The memo's disclosure raises new questions about the role that Haynes and other Bush-administration lawyers played in crafting legal policies that critics say led to abuses at Abu...
  • Saddam’s Files

    They show terror plots, but raise new questions about some U.S. claims.
  • A Delegate Loophole?

    Citing wiggle room in an obscure, 26-year-old Democratic Party rule, Hillary Clinton's campaign is leaving the door open to the idea of attempting to persuade Barack Obama's pledged delegates to switch their votes at the last minute and back the New York senator—despite fears among some party officials that it could throw this summer's Denver convention into chaos.The question of whether pledged delegates must stick to the candidate they were elected to vote for has prompted party chatter for weeks. Clinton herself drew notice last week during a NEWSWEEK interview when she said her delegate numbers aren't "bleak at all," even though by most counts she trails Obama by more than 100. "Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to," she added. Although her campaign quickly denied it was waging any effort to "flip" Obama's pledged delegates, Clinton's remarks weren't academic. After the 1980 battle between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy, her...
  • An Arms Dealer’s U.S. Ties

    U.S. officials are thrilled about the arrest in Bangkok of accused Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout following a lengthy undercover sting by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Dubbed the "Merchant of Death," Bout had been a top target for years. But if, as expected, he is extradited to New York, where he faces charges of conspiring to provide weapons to Colombian guerrillas, the case could also embarrass some U.S. government figures. As recently as four years ago, Bout's companies were employed by the Pentagon to fly troop supplies for the Iraq War into U.S. military bases—an issue he will likely exploit at his trial. "This shows the incompetence of the way the war was being run," said Lee Wolosky, a former White House national-security aide who led efforts to apprehend Bout during the Clinton administration. "While Bout was being pursued by one part of the U.S. government, another part was rewarding him with fuel agreements and subcontracts."Bout's Iraq work continued even...
  • Attack Ads on the Way

    A new series of TV commercials featuring sinister photos of Osama bin Laden may signal what's to come this fall: a wave of secretly financed political attack ads. The spots, by a group called Defense of Democracies, which was just created by former Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May, target 15 House Democrats for their failure to support a White House-backed electronic-spying bill. May told NEWSWEEK he plans to spend $2 million on the ads, but declined to identify who is financing the effort, saying he set up the group as a tax-exempt nonprofit—known in the federal tax code as a "501(c)(4)"—thereby permitting it to engage in political advocacy without disclosing donors.The ads spotlight what some experts say is a gaping loophole in the campaign-finance laws. On Dec. 26, 2007, the Federal Election Commission quietly issued new rules in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last June that give more latitude for 501(c)(4) groups to run political "electioneering" ads...
  • Terror Watch: Scare Tactics on Eavesdropping?

    An aggressive campaign by the White House and its allies to win approval of a new electronic spying bill is escalating partisan tensions on Capitol Hill. The contentious debate over the measure could spill over into this fall's election campaign. The latest tactic employed by administration supporters involves a $2 million television advertising campaign featuring sinister images of Osama bin Laden that started running this week in the home districts of about 15 Democratic members of Congress who are potentially vulnerable this fall. The ads, funded by a newly formed conservative advocacy group called defenseofdemocracies.org, charge that House Democrats have allowed "surveillance against terrorists" to be "crippled" because they failed to approve a version of the spying bill supported by the Bush administration.The group, run by Clifford May, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee, has not disclosed the names of its donors. May told NEWSWEEK that he...
  • Back on the Tape Trail

    Newly released documents suggest that the U.S. government videotaped more Qaeda suspects than it has publicly disclosed. Court filings unsealed last week show that federal prosecutors recently informed a judge about videos depicting the questioning of a key figure in the case of convicted Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. Although the witness's name was redacted, a U.S. official (who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive matters) acknowledged that it was Mohammad al-Qatani, the reputed "20th hijacker," who has been detained at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. A Qatani video could create problems: his treatment was the subject of an extensive investigation by the U.S. Southern Command. The probe, whose results were released in 2005, found that he'd been forced to wear a bra, stand naked in front of female guards, wear a leash and "perform a series of dog tricks." The Southern Command report concluded that while these practices were "abusive and degrading," they did not rise to the...
  • Ex-Congressman Indicted

    Former U.S. representative Mark Siljander is indicted on charges related to work for an Islamic charity that prosecutors say has Al Qaeda and Taliban ties.