Blogger's Note: I've been on this story from the beginning (see http://impactglassman.blogspot.com/2008/12/computer-expert-believed-to-have-rigged.html ). I have heard election lawyer Cliff Arnebeck speak at the National Election Reform Conference in Nashville in April of 2005, had a brief e-mail exchange with Republican IT expert Stephen Spoonamore, and have read extensively of the final count of the Ohio 2004 Presidential Election having been carried out by Mike Connell at an outfit called SMARTech, George W. Bush's website host down in Chattanooga, TN. I have no idea why the article below appeared in MAXIM Magazine rather than somewhere else, or why it ended up in the Humor section (which it definitely is not). In any event, it is the best telling of this story yet to appear anywhere -- and I hope it will be in American history books of the future. Maybe you will write one of those books...
The crash would have remained a private tragedy confined to the pages of the local press and the hearts of the pilot’s widow and four children, but within days the blogosphere was abuzz with rumors and conspiracy theories: The plane, it was said, had been sabotaged and the pilot murdered to cover up the GOP’s alleged theft of the Ohio vote in the 2004 presidential election. At the center of this plot was the Saratoga’s pilot, a prodigiously gifted IT expert named Michael Connell, whose altar boy charm and technical brilliance had made him the computer whiz of choice for the Republican Party. Left-wing Web sites openly referred to Connell as “Bush’s vote rigger” and claimed that his fingerprints were on all the most controversial elections in recent history. There were dark whispers of electronic pulses or sniper fire being used to bring down the plane—a black ops attack designed to keep him from testifying against his former cronies. Right-wing bloggers and talk show hosts derided such claims as the twisted delusions of liberal nut jobs and tinfoil hatters. The mainstream press sat on its hands.
Born in 1963 in Peoria, Illinois into a large Irish-American family, Michael Connell was a lifelong Republican and a devout Roman Catholic who went to Mass every day and wore a wristband saying what would jesus do? What Connell did was realize the potential of the Internet to shape politics. While still in his 20s, he worked as finance director for Republican Congressman Jim Leach, and as director of voter programs for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. In 1988 Connell developed a voter contact database for George H. W. Bush, thus inaugurating a long association with the Bush family: Connell worked on Jeb’s gubernatorial campaign in Florida in 1998; two years later he was the chief architect of George W. Bush’s Web site as Dubya launched his bid for the White House.
Connell never did talk to the judiciary committee. But in the months leading up to his death he was under intense pressure. In an attempt to extricate himself from the world of politics, he had sold two of his businesses, including GovTech. Throughout the fall his plane was being tracked by Arnebeck and his associates so they could serve him with a subpoena. Connell sought refuge from the maelstrom in his deep Catholic faith. He took to wearing a scapular, two squares of cloth with religious images favored by devout Catholics, under his shirt. He went to Mass twice a day and became more directly involved with the pro-life movement, spending weekends standing outside abortion clinics. He traveled to Burma and Thailand to work with religious dissidents and started a Catholic charity in El Salvador.
Capt. Lorin Geisner of the Greentown Fire Department was the first person to arrive at the scene. “We received a 911 call, so we contacted the tower and asked what size plane it was and how many souls were on board,” he recalls. “But we were informed that the tower was in lockdown and that no information was available.”
“How is this OK?” asks Heather Connell, pulling a chunk of metal from a cardboard box she had brought in from the garage. She is kneeling on the floor of her husband’s basement office, a tidy space decorated with sleek black office furniture. A photo of a 25-year-old Connell with George H. W. Bush sits on the bookshelf next to an action figure of Dubya decked out in fighter pilot garb. A cascade of frizzy blonde hair tumbles forward over Heather’s face. Her eyes are red from crying. “They think this is part of the foot pedal.”
Though she is furious at the NTSB, she has no time for the conspiracy theories. While she admits that Connell was disillusioned with politics, she bridles at any suggestion that he could have been involved with vote rigging. “With Mike there was religion, family, and a love for democracy,” she says firmly. “He would never interfere with the democratic process. That’s just ridiculous.”
Connell’s younger sister isn’t so sure. “I knew he worked for the Bushes,” says Shannon Connell. The two siblings had diametrically opposed views—Shannon Connell is a pro-Obama liberal—but they never allowed this to come between them. “We stayed close despite the political differences. He was my brother.”
Still, “In my mind and my heart,” says Shannon Connell, “I am convinced he was murdered.”
We may never know the truth about Connell’s last flight, but contracts between Connell’s company, GovTech, and Ken Blackwell’s administration establish a credible scenario for electoral fraud and place Connell at the scene of the alleged crime.
In early November, the NTSB finally released its factual report into Connell’s crash. The report concludes that tests carried out on the plane’s engine, flight control, and autopilot systems revealed “no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.”
A spokeswoman for the NTSB confirmed that the organization had received a copy of the anonymous letter, but would not say whether its claims were being looked into. “We’re investigating the accident,” she says, “not any possible criminal activity.” She adds that the NTSB forwarded the letter to the FBI in Cleveland. When asked to confirm this, Scott Wilson at the FBI’s Cleveland bureau, says, “The only thing I can say is...I can’t say anything.”