Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • 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...
  • Justice Department Firings: A Cover-up?

    Bud Cummins never had any intention of making a fuss. A folksy Arkansas lawyer, Cummins had been abruptly fired last year as U.S. attorney in Little Rock to create a slot for a former top aide to Karl Rove. But Cummins is a loyal Republican; he knows how the game is played in Washington, so he kept quiet. Then last month, as the press picked up on the story of Cummins and seven other fired U.S. attorneys, he was quoted in a newspaper story defending his colleagues. Cummins got a phone call from the Justice Department that he found vaguely menacing.It came from Michael Elston, a top Justice official. Cummins says Elston expressed concern that he and the dismissed attorneys were talking to reporters about what had happened to them. Elston, Cummins says, suggested this might not be a good idea; Justice officials might feel compelled to "somehow pull their gloves off" and retaliate against the prosecutors by publicly trashing them. "I was tempted to challenge him," Cummins e-mailed...
  • Rove’s Role in the U.S. Attorneys’ Firings

    Karl Rove participated in a discussion about the firing of U.S. attorneys in 2005, asking White House lawyers “how we planned to proceed” on the issue and whether the prosecutors would be selectively dismissed or fired en masse, according to newly disclosed White House e-mails.The e-mails, obtained by NEWSWEEK, appear to show that Rove had a greater level of involvement in the dismissal of the prosecutors than the White House has previously acknowledged. The messages may also raise new questions for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. While the attorney general insisted to reporters this week that he had rejected “a request from the White House” to fire all U.S. attorneys two years ago, the new e-mails show the plan was conceived while Gonzales himself was the White House counsel.The controversy over the firing of the U.S. attorneys erupted in recent weeks, after some of the fired prosecutors testified that they believed they were improperly dismissed because of political pressures....
  • GOP Lawmakers Played a Role In U.S. Attorney Purge

    The firings of eight U.S. attorneys has put the heat on top Justice Department officials—and some GOP members of Congress. The unusual mass dismissals took place late last year, but the controversy escalated last week when David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, went public with a dramatic charge: that he had gotten phone calls from two unidentified GOP lawmakers in D.C. last October, pressing him to bring indictments in a high-profile corruption case involving a prominent local Democrat before the November election. Iglesias—a former Navy prosecutor who was the model for Tom Cruise's character in "A Few Good Men"—said he refused to answer. Six weeks later, a Justice official ordered him to resign. This week, Iglesias has been subpoenaed along with three other fired prosecutors to testify before Congress. He plans to name the lawmakers who called him as Rep. Heather Wilson (who was in a tight re-election battle at the time) and Sen. Pete Domenici (who originally...
  • Isikoff: Libby Jury Kept a Narrow Focus

    The jury in the I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby trial had a “tremendous amount of sympathy” for Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff—even wondering if he was being made the “fall guy” for others at the White House, one of the jurors told reporters today.“It was said a number of times, what are we doing with this guy?’ juror Denis Collins told reporters on the courthouse steps today. “Where is [Karl] Rove? Where are all the others?”In the end, the jurors stuck to the  issues directly in front of them and delivered a stunning verdict, finding Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff guilty on four of five felony counts involving obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to the FBI.But Collins’ revealing comments illustrate how difficult it was for the jurors—and perhaps members of the public—to distinguish the relatively narrow questions in the Libby trial from the much larger issues about Iraq war intelligence and White House conduct that have...
  • Terror Watch: The Missing Padilla Video

    The government made a secret video of its interrogations of 'enemy combatant' Jose Padilla. But now that he's on trial, the Feds claim they don't know where it went.
  • A Man Of Mystery

    Robert Novak, as usual, had a scoop to unload--only this time, it was from the witness stand. Testifying last week in the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the conservative columnist gruffly described how he first learned from two top Bush administration officials that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. But then Novak injected a new name into the drama--one that virtually nobody in the courtroom knew.Asked by one of Libby's lawyers if he had talked about Plame with anybody else before outing her in his column, Novak said he'd discussed her with a lobbyist named Richard Hohlt. Who, the lawyer pressed, is Hohlt? "He's a very good source of mine" whom I talk to "every day," Novak replied. Indeed, Hohlt is such a good source that after Novak finished his column naming Plame, he testified, he did something most journalists rarely do: he gave the lobbyist an advance copy of his column. What Novak...
  • A Damning Witness

    Ari Fleischer may turn out to be a stronger—and more credible—witness than he was a White House press secretary.During several hours on the witness stand in the I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby Jr. perjury and obstruction trial Monday, President Bush’s former chief spokesman was cool, unruffled, chatty and at times combative—especially when he underwent hostile cross-examination from one of Libby’s lawyers. But he stuck to his story and, in the process, delivered what may have been the most damaging testimony yet against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.Fleischer described with damning new details a lunch he had with Libby in the White House mess on July 7, 2003, just as the controversy over the president’s State of the Union claim that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa was spreading into a major Washington firestorm.During that lunch, Fleischer said, Libby was anxious to rebut criticism by former ambassador Joseph Wilson. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Wilson had...
  • Deadly Triggers

    Why is the Bush administration escalating its accusations that Iran is backing Shiite extremists inside Iraq? One reason: mounting intelligence indicating Tehran has been supplying insurgents with electronic sensors that trigger roadside bombs used against U.S. troops.The devices in question—which cost as little as $1 a piece—are called "passive infrared" sensors or detectors. They are commonly used to turn on lights or burglar alarms when someone or something passes in front of them. Over the past year, U.S. forces in Iraq have repeatedly fallen victim to sophisticated homemade bombs—known as “IEDs”, or improvised explosive devices—which are often rigged with passive infrared sensors.Recent reports from U.S. intelligence agencies show that Iranian agents or brokers have ordered the devices in bulk from manufacturers in the Far East, said one U.S. counter-terrorism official, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. Bruce Riedel, a senior intelligence official who...