Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • 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...
  • Terror Watch: The Pakistan Connection

    The little-noticed arrests of three men allegedly planning U.S. attacks renews questions about the country's tolerance of terrorists.
  • The Missing Terrorist

    The Bush administration once proudly trumpeted its capture of terrorist leader Ibn al-Shakyh al-Libi-a key source for the assertion that Iraq helped train Al Qaeda in biochem weapons. His story has since been discredited. Where is he now?
  • Q&A: Lanny Davis on Policing Civil Liberties Under Bush

    Lanny Davis is a Washington lawyer best known for his stint as a White House spokesman during the Clinton administration, where he helped do damage control on Whitewater and campaign-finance investigations.  But Davis is also one of the few Democrats to work for the Bush administration—until he resigned last week as a member of the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The five-member board was created by Congress at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to monitor potential abuses of civil liberties.  Davis spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Michael Isikoff about his service on the panel, his reasons for resigning—and his dealings with embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. ...
  • New Terror: Cells With No Links to Al Qaeda

    The men who gathered inside the small Bronx apartment were tense, and they chatted nervously before the ceremony. The participants, among them a New York City musician and an emergency-room doctor from Florida, had allegedly gathered to meet a "brother" from Canada who called himself Ali. The brother had come with a message—from "Sheik Osama.""You are in the belly of the enemy," the man from Canada warned, and cautioned his audience to be careful whom they spoke to. "The oppressors are everywhere." Once it was clear they all understood, the jazz musician bent to his knees, clutched the visitor's hand and took a solemn oath. He pledged to be "one of Islam's soldiers ... on the road to jihad." The doctor allegedly did the same. Then they each embraced the oath giver, the final step in Al Qaeda's sacred initiation ritual.An audiotape of that extraordinary scene played in a federal courtroom last week as one of the initiates, Dr. Rafiq Sabir, a graduate of Columbia University Medical...
  • McNulty, Davis Resignations a Blow to Bush

    In a blow to the Bush administration, the deputy attorney general and the only Democrat on the White House's Privacy and Civil Liberties Board have resigned.
  • Terror Watch: The Jersey Plot

    The Feds bust up a homegrown jihadist plot to attack Fort Dix. Did Al Qaeda DVDs and Web sites inspire the suspects from afar?
  • Rove's Role in Prosecutor Firings Testimony

    Deputy chief of staff Karl Rove participated in a hastily called meeting at the White House two months ago. The subject: The firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The purpose: to coach a top Justice Department official heading to Capitol Hill to testify on the prosecutorial purge on what he should say.Now some investigators are saying that Rove’s attendance at the meeting shows that the president’s chief political adviser may have been involved in an attempt to mislead Congress—one more reason they are demanding to see his e-mails and force him to testify under oath.At the March 5, 2007, meeting, White House aides, including counsel Fred Fielding and deputy counsel William Kelley, sought to shape testimony that Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella was to give the next day before the House Judiciary Committee.Although the existence of the White House meeting had been previously disclosed by the Justice Department, Rove’s attendance at the strategy session...
  • Isikoff: The NRA's Take On the Cho Massacre

    In his first public comments since last week’s massacre, the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist said today that the group backs proposed new legislation designed to ensure that mentally unstable killers like Cho Seung-Hui do not gain access to firearms.Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, told NEWSWEEK that Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, “absolutely” should have been barred from buying a gun under current federal laws. But Lapierre nonetheless says the group is now working with longtime ally Rep. John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, on a bill to ensure that mental-health records—such as the December 2005 court order directing Cho to receive a psychiatric evaluation—are entered into a FBI database that is used for background checks of gun buyers. Federal law does bar sales of guns to those who have been found to be mentally “defective,” but most states have a shoddy track record of reporting mental-health records to the feds.“Our position on this is crystal...
  • U.S. May Be Softening Stance on Muslim Brotherhood

    A brief encounter at a Cairo cocktail party could signal a shift in Bush administration policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide Islamic movement that the United States has shunned because of its alleged ties to terrorism. The party, at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone, was for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other visiting members of Congress. While there, Hoyer told NEWSWEEK, he was introduced by a U.S. Embassy official to one of the invited guests: Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, a Brotherhood leader who also serves as a chief of an "independent" bloc in the Egyptian Parliament allied with the movement, which itself is banned by the Egyptian government. Hoyer told the embassy he wanted to hear "alternative" voices in Egypt. He had met el-Katatni with other Parliament members earlier in the day. But, Hoyer said, "we didn't ask that the Brotherhood be included in the reception. Frankly, we were surprised to see him." During their five-minute...
  • Did Cho Buy the Guns Legally?

    The disclosure that Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui was once involuntarily detained for mental illness may change the typical debate over gun control that inevitably follows gun-related tragedies.At the time Cho legally purchased the weapons used in the shootings, he had no criminal history and was a permanent legal resident with a green card. He followed the law and underwent the required background checks. Thus, in the  immediate aftermath of the shootings, law-enforcement officials said there was nothing that would have prevented him from buying the guns—short of major changes to the gun laws that most members of Congress were clearly not ready to support.Were they wrong? Contrary to initial reports, Cho may not have been legally eligible to acquire the two semi-automatic weapons that he used to murder more than 30 students at the school on Monday. Critics say Cho was able to collect his firearms without a hitch because of a gaping hole in the enforcement of existing federal...
  • Gonzales Crams for a Senate Grilling

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has virtually wiped his public schedule clean to bone up for his long-awaited April 17 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—a session widely seen as a crucial test as to whether he will survive the U.S. attorney mess. But even his own closest advisers are nervous about whether he is up to the task. At a recent "prep" for a prospective Sunday talk-show interview, Gonzales's performance was so poor that top aides scrapped any live appearances. During the March 23 session in the A.G.'s conference room, Gonzales was grilled by a team of top aides and advisers—including former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie and former White House lawyer Tim Flanigan—about what he knew about the plan to fire seven U.S. attorneys last fall. But Gonzales kept contradicting himself and "getting his timeline confused," said one participant who asked not to be identified talking about a private meeting. His advisers finally got "exasperated" with...