Rove's IT Guru Warned of Sabotage Before Fatal Plane Crash; Was Set to Testify
Amy Goodman: A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Mike Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. He also set up the official Ohio state election website reporting the 2004 presidential election returns.
Connell was reportedly an experienced pilot. He died instantly Friday night when his private plane crashed in a residential neighborhood near Akron, Ohio.
Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count and his access to Karl Rove's e-mail files and how they went missing.
Velvet Revolution, a non-profit investigating Connell's activities, revealed this weekend that Connell had recently said he was afraid George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus." Cliff Arnebeck had also previously alerted Attorney General Michael Mukasey to alleged threats from Karl Rove to Connell if he refused to "take the fall."
Well, Mark Crispin Miller joins us now, a professor of media culture and communication at New York University, the author of several books, including Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too. Mark Crispin Miller us now in our firehouse studio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
Mark Crispin Miller: It's good to be here, Amy. Thank you.
AG: Alright, well, we had you on right before the election, because that's when Mike Connell was being deposed. This news that came out of his death in a plane crash on Friday night, talk about what you understand has happened.
MCM: Well, I cannot assert with perfect confidence that this was no accident, but I will say that the circumstances are so suspicious and so convenient for Rove and the White House that I think we're obliged to investigate this thing very, very thoroughly. And that means, first of all, taking a close look at some of the stories that were immediately circulated to account for what happened, that it was bad weather. That was the line they used when Wellstone's plane went down. There had been bad weather, but it had passed two hours before. And this comes from a woman at the airport information desk in Akron. We're told that his plane was running out of gas, which is a little bit odd for a highly experienced pilot like Connell, but apparently, when the plane went down, there was an explosion, a fireball that actually charred and pocked some of the house fronts in the neighborhood. People can go online and see the footage that news crews took. But beyond the, you know, dubiousness of the official story, we have to take a close look at -- and a serious look at all the charges that Connell was set to make.
AG: Now, he had asked the Attorney General Mukasey for protective custody, because of threats to him and his wife?
MCM: He reported threats to his lawyer, Cliff Arnebeck, and Arnebeck -- also, Velvet Revolution heard from tipsters, as well, tipsters who also claimed that Connell's life was at risk. Stephen Spoonamore, the whistleblower who was the first -- who was the one to name Connell in the first place, also had an ear to the inside. He's also very connected. And all these people were saying Rove is making threats, the White House is very worried about this case.
Having heard all this, Arnebeck contacted Mukasey, he contacted Nancy Rogers, who is the Ohio Attorney General, and he wrote a letter to the court, telling all of them that "This man should be in protective custody. He is an important witness in a RICO case. Please do something to look after him." And they didn't respond to this.
AG: So, explain what this case is all about and exactly what Mike Connell has been doing over these last years. What does it mean to be Karl Rove's IT guru?
MCM: Well, the lawyers in the case refer to him as a high-IQ Forrest Gump, by which they mean that he seems to have been present at the scene of every dubious election of the last eight years. We're talking about Florida in 2000. We're talking about Ohio in 2004. We're talking about Alabama in 2002. He seems to have been involved in the theft of Don Siegelman's re-election for governor. There's some evidence that links him with the Saxby Chambliss-Max Cleland Senate race in Georgia in 2002. To be Karl Rove's IT guru seems to have meant basically setting it up so that votes could be electronically shaved to the disadvantage of the Democrats and the advantage of Republicans.
AG: What do you mean, "electronically shaved"? I mean, you've got all these precincts all over Ohio. They're counting up their votes. What does he have to do with this?
MCM: Well, specifically, there's a computer architecture setup called "Man in the Middle," which involves shunting the election returns from, you know, the state in question -- in this case, Ohio -- shunting them to a separate computer elsewhere. All of the election returns in Ohio in 2004 went from the Secretary of State's website -- this is Ken Blackwell -- to a separate computer in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was under the control of another private company called SMARTech.
So we have now two private companies: GovTech Solutions, which is Connell's company, SMARTech, which is run by a guy named [Jeff] Averbeck. And the company -- the third private company that managed the voting tabulators in Ohio was called Triad. All three of these companies worked closely together on election night in Ohio in 2004. It turns out that the state's own IT person was sent home at 9:00 p.m. They said, "Go ahead. Go home. We'll take care of this." So that this trio of highly partisan and, let me add, Christianist companies basically took over the whole --
AG: What do you mean, "Christianist"?
MCM: Well, they're radical theocratic activists, particularly -- particularly Triad and SMARTech. You know, they are fervently anti-choice.
AG: Well, Mike Connell was, in fact -- many said that's what motivated him through all of this, his fierce anti-abortion stance.
MCM: He told -- Connell told Spoonamore that one of the primary reasons why he helped Bush-Cheney steal elections was to save the babies. I do think, though, that we have to draw a distinction between Connell, on the one hand, and the Averbeck and the Rapp family, on the other hand, because Connell was far less ferocious in his political views. He was an ardent anti-abortionist, it's true, but he wasn't quite as hardcore as the others. And in fact, you know, he was a little bit alienated from the others, and that's one of the reasons why he was inclined to talk, and so on.
But the fact is, to answer your question, that on election night in 2004, it had been Connell, with these other two companies working with him, who had managed the computer setup, enabling Ken Blackwell to study the maps of precincts and voter turnout very carefully and figure out how many votes they need. By shunting the data to Chattanooga, they kind of slowed down the data stream.
AG: Wasn't Karl Rove's email also there in Chattanooga on some of these servers?
MCM: Yes, yes. The same servers were used to host a whole bunch of highly partisan websites. And also, indeed, Karl Rove's emails were on that server, too.
AG: That have gone missing.
MCM: That have gone missing. Incidentally, Stephen Spoonamore, again, the whistleblower who's the one who named Connell, has told us -- and I've seen his own contemporary notes --
AG: And explain again who he was. Why was he in a position to whistleblow?
MCM: Stephen Spoonamore is a conservative Republican, a former McCain supporter and a very prominent expert at the detection of computer fraud. He's the star witness in the Ohio lawsuit, right, in which Connell was involved. He has done extensive work of this kind, involving computer security, and had therefore worked with Connell, knew Connell personally and knew a lot of the people who were involved in the sort of cyber-security end of the Bush operation.
Despite his conservatism -- or I suppose some would say because of it -- he's a man of principle -- I mean, believes in the Constitution. He believes elections should be honest. He's the one who came forward and named Connell.
And I have seen his notes of a conversation in which Connell asked Spoonamore how one would go about destroying White House emails. To this, Spoonamore said, "This conversation is over. You're asking me to do something illegal." But clearly, clearly -- this is the important point -- Mike Connell was up past his eyeballs in the most sensitive and explosive aspects of this crime family that, you know, has been masquerading as a political party.
AG: And what did Fitrakis, the attorney who has brought the suit with Harvey Wasserman, the Ohio lawsuit, learn in the deposition of Mike Connell in the day before the election, which hardly got attention, considering it was the day before this historic election?
MCM: Yeah. Harvey wasn't part of it. Harvey writes articles with Bob. It's Bob Fitrakis and Cliff Arnebeck are the attorneys. They learned very little. What they learned was that Bush-Cheney lawyer who accompanied Connell to the deposition was watching the whole thing like a hawk, repeatedly objected to questions. Connell was stonewalling like crazy at this deposition.
They only learned one thing. And that was, they got confirmation that it was Connell who brought these other private companies into the arrangement, in addition to his own GovTech Solutions. Again, there was Triad and SMARTech. It was Connell who brought those three companies into one unit, so that the three of them were, in effect, handling Ohio's election returns on election night under Connell's supervision. That's what we learned.
We also know, Amy, that since the deposition -- I want to make this clear; we said it before, I want to repeat it -- that Connell has indicated very clearly a desire to talk further, to tell more, whether it's his conscience bothering him or whether it's fear of some kind of a perjury charge because of how vigorously he stonewalled at the deposition. He made it known to the lawyers, he made it known to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story, that he wanted to talk. He was scared. He wanted to talk. And I say that he had pretty good reason to be scared.
AG: So why did he fly in -- why did he pilot his own plane when he was so afraid?
MCM: Well, that's a good question. We can't ask him, unfortunately. I mean, this is kind of a grisly thought, but, I mean, I think we should be asking where the body is. We're told that a trooper on the scene immediately identified Connell. But then we read elsewhere that there was nothing left but debris and that the fireball was enormous. So maybe he wasn't on the plane. I mean, who knows, when you're dealing with people as deep as these?
But the point is -- I can't stress this strongly enough -- we're dealing not just with a shocking accident, if that's what it was, and a convenient one. We're dealing not even just with a particular lawsuit that, you know, really requires vigorous promotion. The important point here is that this is all about our elections. That's what this is about. This is about democratic self-government.
The fact that Obama won so handily has caused a lot of us to sit back and relax. There's been a lot of popping of champagne corks and people drawing the conclusion that the system must work, because our guy won. Well, this is not a sports event. This is self-government.
In fact, the evidence strongly suggests -- and we haven't had a chance to talk about this since Election Day -- that Obama probably won by twice as many votes as we think. Probably a good seven million votes for Obama were undone through vote suppression and fraud, because the stuff was extensive and pervasive, in places where you wouldn't expect it.
The Illinois Ballot Integrity Project was monitoring the vote in DuPage County, right next door to Obama's, you know, backyard, Cook County. And two of them, in only two precincts on Election Day, saw with their own eyes 350 voters show up, only to be turned away, told, "You're not registered," people who were registered, who voted in the primary. All but one of these people was black. That's in Illinois.
People at the Election Defense Alliance have discovered, from sifting through the numbers, an eleven-point red shift in New Hampshire. That means that there's a discrepancy in Obama's disfavor, primarily through use of the optical scan machines, an eleven-point discrepancy in the Republicans' favor, OK?
You start to combine this with all the vote suppression, all the disenfranchisement, all the vote machine flipping that went on in this election, you realize, OK, Obama won, but millions of Americans, most of them African American and students, you know, were not able to participate in any civic sense, ironically, a lot of the same people, you know, who would have been disenfranchised and were disenfranchised before the civil rights movement. So the fact that a black president was elected, while cause for jubilation, see, ought not to take place at the expense of a whole lot of our fellow citizens who seem to have been disenfranchised on racial grounds. My point is very simply this: We've got to get past the victory of Obama and look seriously at what our election system is like, or else, I promise you, see, the setup that was put in place in this last election, in 2004 and in 2000, OK, will still be there in 2010, still be there in 2012. So we've got to take steps to do something about it now.
AG: Mark Crispin Miller, I want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of media culture and communication at New York University, most recent book Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008.