Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • Dangerous Liaisons

    Nada Prouty worked for the FBI and CIA. Now there's worry she's not who they thought she was.
  • Interpol Raises The Stakes

    With little fanfare, tension between Iran and the Bush administration escalated earlier this month when Interpol, the world police organization, voted to issue "red notices" for the arrest of three Iranian government officials, including Deputy Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. The three men have been charged in Argentina with conspiring alongside notorious Hizbullah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh to blow up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in July 1994— an attack that killed 85 people. Iranian delegates challenged the vote by Interpol's General Assembly, labeling it a "Zionist plot." Nevertheless, it was a key victory for the United States and Argentina. As a result, customs and border officials around the world will be notified that the Iranians are wanted on terrorism charges. "These people know that if they leave Iran, they run the risk of being arrested," said Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble, who called the action "probably the most contested red-notice dispute in...
  • An Ex-A.G. Avoids Caller ID

    The nation's telecommunications companies want immunity from lawsuits related to their participation in President Bush's warrantless-surveillance program, and to get it, they've been mounting an aggressive Capitol Hill lobbying campaign. Last week they played what they hoped would be their trump card: a letter backing their position from ex-attorney-general John Ashcroft and three other former top Justice officials. The quartet seemed to have special credibility on the issue: they had all once threatened to resign because of concerns about the top-secret spying program's legality. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch called the letter "very interesting," adding that the telecoms deserved protection from costly lawsuits for their service to the intelligence community.But the correspondence left out some pertinent details. Ashcroft's consulting firm, the Ashcroft Group, registered last year to lobby for AT&T—one of the three big telecoms, along with Verizon and Sprint, spear-heading the...
  • Campaign '08: Hillary's Paper Trail

    During last week's Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton faced tough questions about why so many of her papers at her husband's presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., are still secret—and her answers have only invited more questions. Clinton said during the debate that one chunk of records, from her days heading up her husband's health-care task force, had been released. "Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available," she said. But National Archives documents obtained by NEWSWEEK and interviews with Archives officials indicate that the vast majority of the Clintons' health-care task-force records are still under lock and key in Little Rock—and might stay that way for some time.In a letter last year responding to a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch, Melissa Walker, supervisory archivist of the Clinton Presidential Library, wrote that archivists had identified 3,022...
  • A Terrorist Walks Free

    Cole bomber Jamal al-Badawi already escaped from jail once. This time the government opened the door.
  • 'How Do You Fund a War, But Not the Casualties?’

    The secretary of Veterans Affairs presides over the U.S. government's second largest Cabinet department, after Defense. It is a politically sensitive job, especially of late, with new studies showing that the Bush administration has vastly underestimated the cost of providing health care to the more than 750,000 soldiers who have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But three months ago, former secretary James Nicholson resigned abruptly after a difficult tenure to "get back into the business world"—and tension among vets is rising because the White House still hasn't nominated a replacement. "I wish I could tell you what's going on," says David Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans. "I think the administration thinks this is the least of their priorities."Some veterans advocates say the VA is in such disarray that the White House has been unable to find a top-notch candidate willing to take the job, much less go through a confirmation hearing. ...
  • D.C. Angers Turkey Over Armenia

    The House Committee vote to label Turkey's mass killing of Armenians during World War I as a "genocide" followed one of the most intense, and unusual, battles on Capitol Hill in recent memory. The measure passed despite a lobbying blitz from the Turkish government, which hired an army of K Street lobbyists to fight it. The team included former House majority leader Dick Gephardt, who as a congressman had cosponsored genocide resolutions but switched sides in March when his firm signed a $1.2 million-a-year contract to represent the Turks. The flip-flop resulted in some awkward phone calls for Gephardt. "Dick, if memory serves me, didn't you used to support this?" New York Rep. Eliot Engel says he told Gephardt during a call urging him to oppose the measure. (Gephardt did not return calls seeking comment.) President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also made late appeals, fearing that the move would endanger diplomatic relations as well as Turkish defense...
  • Terror Watch: Gonzales Lawyers Up

    Still under investigation by Congress and Justice Department lawyers who once worked for him, the former attorney general has turned to a leading Washington attorney to help him beat the rap.
  • Terror, Torture and a Veil of Secrecy

    Eager to show how aggressively it was revising U.S. counterterrorism policies, the White House released a statement two years ago touting its adoption of 37 of the 39 reforms recommended by the 9/11 Commission. But one of the two it rejected—to little fanfare—was the commission's recommendation that the U.S. comply with Geneva Conventions standards requiring "humane treatment" of captured terrorists. That decision, based in part on advice from Justice Department lawyers, led to a quiet but intense battle within the Bush administration. "This was doing more damage to our foreign policy than any other issue," says Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission who later served as senior counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "This was not just a matter of public opinion. It was having an effect on the cooperation we were getting on counterterrorism operations worldwide." Key European allies, he says, were balking at working with the United States on terrorist...
  • Terror Watch: The Suspects Who Got Away

    German authorities nabbed the alleged masterminds of a deadly plot against U.S. targets. But dozens of others believed to be close to their terror cell are still at large.
  • Grilling A Bush Pick

    After President Bush settled on Michael Mukasey to be his next attorney general, White House officials were privately worried about how conservatives would react given the ex-judge's lack of "movement" credentials. But in a series of private meetings arranged by chief of staff Josh Bolten prior to the nomination, Mukasey, 66, reassured top hard-liners, such as Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo and former A.G. Edwin Meese. According to three sources, who asked not to be named discussing the private meetings, Mukasey said that he saw "significant problems" with shutting down Guantánamo Bay and that he understood the need for the CIA to use some "enhanced" interrogation techniques against Qaeda suspects. Mukasey also signaled reluctance with naming a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-administration misconduct, according to one participant. "Gosh, I'm a little worried that the Democrats might have problems with him," said one well-connected conservative after being briefed...
  • Isikoff: The Allawi Interview

    The surge is a dead end. The Iraqi government does not want to 'achieve reconciliation.' Steps must be taken to 'save the country.' Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi discusses his plans for Iraq.
  • Isikoff: Gonzales Gone But Not Forgotten

    Embattled attorney general Alberto Gonzales finally calls it quits. But Justice Department investigators and Democrats in Congress aren't nearly done with him yet.
  • Karl Rove's Iraq War Role

    Karl Rove played a key role in the selling of the Iraq War, which may help explain why he's still bullish on the ultimate outcome, no matter how grim the news.
  • Justice Abruptly Cancelled ‘Muslim Outreach’ Event

    Rather than facing possible embarrassment over an invited guest with admittedly loose ties to a terrorism case, the Justice Department cancelled a Muslim-outreach event featuring the attorney general.
  • Gonzales Hangs On … But for How Long?

    Late on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, eight congressional leaders filed into the White House Situation Room for an urgent briefing on one of the Bush administration's top secrets: a classified surveillance program that involved monitoring Americans' e-mails and phone calls without court warrants. Vice President Dick Cheney did most of the briefing. But as he explained the National Security Agency program, the lawmakers weren't fully grasping the dimensions of what he was saying. Tom Daschle, then the Senate minority leader, tells NEWSWEEK that Cheney "talked like it was something routine. We really had no idea what it was all about." Still, as Daschle recalls, there were "a lot of concerns" expressed by some Democrats in the room when Cheney asked for their approval to continue the program. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader, recalls that she "made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking."Last week, embattled Attorney General Alberto...
  • Why Bush Gave Scooter Libby a Pass

    As is often the case in the Bush White House, it was a decision made swiftly, and with stealth. For weeks, allies of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby had aggressively lobbied the president to pardon Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Libby's powerful supporters—including major GOP fund-raisers like Florida developer Melvin Sembler, the chairman of his legal-defense trust—argued that Libby's conviction in March in the CIA leak case was a miscarriage of justice. Libby's allies pressed their argument with White House aides but got nowhere. George W. Bush's senior staff was under strict instructions: listen politely, but give away nothing about what the president might ultimately do.Behind the scenes, Bush was intensely focused on the matter, say two White House advisers who were briefed on the deliberations, but who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. Bush asked Fred Fielding, his discreet White House counsel, to collect information on the case. Fielding, anticipating...
  • Another DOJ Departure

    The exodus of top Justice Department officials continues with Richard Hertling--embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's point man in dealing with Congress--slated to resign next week to take a top policy job with the soon-to-be-announced presidential campaign of Fred Thompson, a senior Justice official confirmed to NEWSWEEK. Hertling, who has been serving as acting attorney general for legislative affairs, is the latest in a parade of departures in recent months that is threatening to leave the Justice Department virtually denuded of senior political appointees. Since the controversy over the firing of U.S. attorneys erupted earlier this year, more than half a dozen top officials have either resigned or announced their intention to do so, including Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, his chief of staff, Michael Elston, Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and White House liaison Monica Goodling. "The Tit...