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2004-07-12

Could Bush Cancel the Election?

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A report in Newsweek finds that the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have begun examining ways to postpone November’s presidential election in the event of an attack near election day. We speak with Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek. [Includes transcript]

The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have begun examining ways to postpone November’s presidential election in the event of an attack near election day. This according to a report in Newsweek.

Last week the Department of Homeland Security asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the cancellation and rescheduling of the election.

This came in response to a request from the chief of the newly created US Election Assistance Commission for Congress to pass emergency legislation to empower the Commission to cancel and reschedule elections.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told Newsweek "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election."

  • Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, broadcasting from Denver, Colorado, as we continue our Exception to the Rulers book and media tour. We first go to Michael Isikoff. The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have begun examining ways to postpone November’s presidential election in the event of an attack near election day. This according to a report in Newsweek. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the cancellation and rescheduling of the election. This came in response to a request from the chief of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission for Congress to pass emergency legislation to empower the commission to cancel and reschedule elections. A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told Newsweek, "we’re reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election." Michael Isikoff, welcome to Democracy Now!

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative reporter for Newsweek, how did you find out this information?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, actually, if you listen closely to Secretary Ridge’s terror threat warning last week, he alluded to this issue of election day threats, what would happen if there were an attack on election day, and in a background briefing that senior intelligence officials gave to reporters, that they, after Ridge spoke, there were questions about what would happen if they had credible threats of an attack on polling booths, would there be any scenarios under which what steps could be taken to secure voting booths, and the answer was sort of vague and evasive enough that led me to think there was more contingency planning going on than they were publicly acknowledging. I followed up with the Homeland Security people after that, and they did acknowledge as we reported this week that they’re examining at least legal steps that could be taken, what kind of emergency steps could be taken, if there were an attack on election day or election eve.

AMY GOODMAN: What is this U.S. Election Assistance Commission?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, that’s actually an interesting wrinkle to this. It’s a newly created federal commission actually in the wake of Florida. Its job is to ensure the smooth administration of elections to prevent future fiascos, such as Florida. And the chairman of that commission, a man by the name of DeForest Soaries, he’s a former Republican, New Jersey Secretary of State, raised this issue with Ridge himself. And in fact, he may have sort of put the ball in play about examining legal steps. He’s written two letters to Ridge now in which he has pointed out that September 11 itself took place on a primary day in New York State. There was a democratic primary that day. The State Board of Elections quickly suspended the election. Obviously it couldn’t proceed given everything that was going on in New York City at that time. And he points out that there is no federal entity that would be empowered to make a similar call were there, in fact, an attack on election day this year. And his modest proposal is that his commission begin on the authority to make such a call. Given that nobody’s actually heard of it, that seems like a stretch at this point. But the basic point of what if, what happens if is a real one, and given that Homeland Security is doing contingency planning on all sorts of threat scenarios, this one has been added to the mix.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff, I know you have to go in a minute, but I also want to ask you about the major piece you have on the Senate Intelligence Report.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Sure. I got just about one minute for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Ok. Go ahead. Just sum it up, what you think is most significant.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Look, the clear divide here is were intelligence analysts pressured? And the Republicans on the committee, the majority of the report says, look, we interviewed lots of analysts, nobody told us they were pressured. There was indication to the contrary, though the CIA ombudsman pointed out that analysts had come to him and asked about repetitive tasking, on trying to find links between al-Qaeda and Saddam’s regime. More interestingly is this whole incident in "Curveball", the Iraqi defector who alleged that Iraq had a fleet of seven biological labs. There was one analyst in the U.S. government who had actually talked to this Curveball and thought the guy was a completely unreliable alcoholic, he had showed up for their one interview nursing a bad hangover, said how can we be relying on this guy? And writes an email on the day before, two days before Secretary Powell’s speech to the U.N., gets back a response saying, look, nobody cares whether or not Curveball is telling the truth. The powers that be are determined to go to war here. It’s in the email. It’s in the report. And that seemed to be a pretty good indication of the mindset that was going on.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the timing with George Tenet leaving, McLaughlin coming in, McLaughlin coming in right now with this report coming out?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, look, the question is, are we going to get a new CIA Director before the election? I think the White House would like to have one. We got another damaging report from the agency coming up in a couple of weeks, maybe as early as next week from the September 11 Commission, and I think the White House wants to be in a position to say, look, we’ve got somebody here in place, who we’re going to put in to fix these problems. The problem is they haven’t found that person yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff, I want to thank you very much for joining us, from Newsweek magazine.

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