The tangled web of intrigue behind the Michael Connell story - his possible involvement in the 2004 Ohio election, his sudden death in a plane crash, and now the strange handling of the story by James Renner of the Cleveland Scene.
The Renner article link is included so you can read it for yourself.
Yesterday I sent out "Point of Impact," the article, in Cleveland Scene, about Mike Connell's death (http://www.freetimes.com/stories/15/90/point-of-impact).
As I noted, there is much new information in James Renner's piece, which anyone who cares about all this should read ASAP. But it's also a misleading piece--especially on the subject of Mike's widow, Heather Connell, whose version of events is strangely incomplete, and yet it comes across as Gospel in the article.
Specifically, the article repeats, without question, Mrs. Connell's very damning take on the reporters following her husband's story--in particular, Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story. Thus the article suppresses, or ignores, a whopping contradiction, which, if we look into it, may help shed further light on Connell's murky, tragic story:
While Heather Connell claims to have been stalked and frightened by Larisa--and that they never met or spoke--Larisa tells us that they did meet, for an about an hour, in late September, and that Heather was quite friendly and co-operative.
And there's much else in the Cleveland Scene piece that Larisa claims, convincingly, to be off-base or incorrect. But it's her full account of that September meeting that is most illuminating--and a little scary, too.
And now, to the interview.
MCM: There's a lot of speculation about Mike Connell's death. You've been following his story very closely for some time. Do you consider his death suspicious? If so, why?
LA: Certainly, when any witness in a high-profile case has a fatal accident, it has to be investigated--especially if that witness had been getting threats, as is alleged in Connell's case.
But in the end, my personal opinion on what actually happened is not relevant or helpful.
We have to deal with facts. It's not helpful to assert that this was murder--or that it was just an accident. The fact is that we don't yet know what happened. So, especially given the circumstances, we have to ask questions, and the investigation has to be transparent, so that the public feels that things were handled properly.
MCM: We've heard that Connell had been signaling a willingness to talk, beyond his deposition. Is that true, as far as you know?
LA: Yes--certainly before his deposition. In late 2007 and early in 2008, there were discussions behind the scenes with some of Conyers's people, and some of Kucinich's people, among others. Connell was going back and forth emotionally, which is a common thing with whistleblowers. At first he was interested in simply appearing as an expert on election issues. But then, as more stuff came to light from several researchers--in my case, it involved the White House emails, and their connection to the [Don] Siegelman and [Paul] Minor cases--Connell started to pull back.
I don't know if he made those overtures in order to secure immunity, or what transpired there. But one member of Conyers's staff did confirm to me that Connell had been interested in talking to them, and I was provided, by a separate source, with some of the back and forth communications.
He seemed to want to talk again toward early summer, but when Stephen Spoonamore went public, a great deal of pressure, including the alleged threats, made him waver. (The threats were said to come to him through several different channels.) Ultimately, Conyers's staff decided that Kucinich ought to be the one to handle Connell, when and if he should come forward. I don't know what happened, but I think they dropped the ball, and he never made such overtures again. It's really unfortunate.
I have my own sense of things, which I cannot yet get into other than to say that pressure also came from others who encouraged him to talk and made it known to him that he'd be safer in the light of day--if he was concerned about threats--than as a witness behind the scenes, or even as a person who knew something but did not talk. In any case, his conscience was bothering him. I think that, had those Congressional leaders met with him, he would have talked to them early last year and possibly as late as last summer.
MCM: How did you come in contact with the Connell family? Heather Connell, Mike's widow, has now claimed that you've been stalking her, and otherwise attempting to coerce her into opening up about her husband's doings--which, she claims, were wholly honest, and that there's just no story there. What do you say to all of that?
LA: The Cleveland Scene article attributing those claims to Heather Connell is, I think, regrettable. The reporter, James Renner, should have spoken to me, given me a chance to comment, but he never did, and then he refused to listen when I tried, through my editor, to set the record straight. "This is why I don't talk to online reporters," was all he said. I guess his contempt for online journalism sort of trumped his ethical responsibility to hear my side of the story.
He also cast me as a stalker. So let me put that charge to rest by telling you what happened between me and Heather Connell.
On September 25, 2008, I drove to Akron, where I met with several sources; and, while there, I also hoped to talk to Heather Connell. There are only two names listed on the incorporation documents for Mike Connell's companies. One is Heather Connell (and the other is Tom Synhorst, an associate of Karl Rove's). So I was very interested in talking to her, as I was following a lead from the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases--a lead that pointed straight to GovTech, Connell's company, and Mike Connell himself, through a fellow named Dan Gans.
MCM: The same Dan Gans who, according to Glynn Wilson, fixed the numbers electronically to "beat" Gov. Don Siegelman in Alabama in 2002?
LA: Yes, that Dan Gans. So, armed with those incorporation documents, I did what investigative journalists do: I worked the shoe leather. I went to the Connells' home on September 25. There was a young boy, maybe 14, playing basketball outside the house. Before I could even stop the car, these dogs came out of nowhere, and literally slammed into the car, barking and growling. I couldn't even open the car door. The boy tried to restrain them, but he couldn't. It was clear to me that I was not going to be getting out of the car as those animals were very aggressive. So I wrote a note saying who I was, and asking Heather to come meet me at a park near the house. I cracked the window open, and asked the boy to give his mom the note,
I've always kept the boy out of the story, as there's been no reason to include him in this drama.I only mention him because the Renner article claims that I "handed Mike's daughter a slip of paper asking Heather to meet [me] in a nearby park." But that's the least of it.
The Cleveland Scene piece then claims that "the cloak-and-dagger approach frightened Heather so much that Connell called his lawyers and had them prepare a restraining order." Heather never spoke to me, according to that piece.
That's a total fabrication. The only female I encountered on that day was Heather Connell, who showed up at the park not five minutes later--alone, to meet a stranger in the park.
She wasn't scared of me or my "approach," and had no reason to be scared. Up to that point, I had never called her home, or emailed her, or sent her postcards or anything like that. This one meeting was my first and only contact with her.
MCM: So what did you two talk about? The Cleveland Scene article implies that you told her about Mike's involvement with vote-flipping for the Bush Republicans.
LA: That's just not true, and I don't if that's a screw-up by James Renner, or if Heather Connell has, since her husband's death, become confused, which would of course be understandable. In any case, I ought to have been asked about this claim, and never was.
Now, let me describe the park a little, as it reconfirms how un-afraid of me Heather Connell was. The place was in the middle of nowhere, and deserted. I saw no swings or kids or moms with babies or old folks out walking.
We sat down at a picnic table, and I told her who I was. I then explained that I'd been worried about calling in advance, and even about coming to her home, because of the alleged threats. I didn't want to make things harder for her or her husband. But I had little choice, I said, because she was a stay-at-home mom--indeed, that's what she called herself-- and so there was no other place where I could contact her.
Then I went into the Siegelman and Minor prosecution stuff that I'd been working on. She was unfamiliar with those cases. I laid out the connections between those cases and her company, and said I had some questions. We did not talk about vote-flipping, since that was not why I was there. So that did not come up at all.
MCM: What did Heather say about her company's connection to the Siegelman and Minor cases?
LA: Well, that's the thing. I had the incorporation documents with me--I'd obtained them in Columbus the day before--with her name and Tom Synhorst's name on them.
And she was shocked that I referred to GovTech as "her company." She was a stay-at-home mom, she said--that she and Mike agreed that her name should be on the documents,because if he should ever leave her, or if something happened, "she wanted half."
I said that this was all well and good, but since she was the only Connell listed, it sort of made no sense. And I also said that I still couldn't understand Tom Synhorst's role in this. She said that she had introduced him to her husband, but that that he'd left the company years earlier. I actually think she had confused Synhorst with Randy Cole [former CEO of GovTech] whom she did introduce to Mike. I don't see how she would have known a character like Synhorst on her own. So I let that go.
MCM: What happened next? Can you tell us more of what she said?
LA: Well, it turned a bit surreal. Remember that we're sitting in this isolated park. There was her car, and one other vehicle--a pickup truck--parked across the seat from where we sat. (I had a colleague with me, who had dropped me off and drove my car away.)
Heather Connell and I were sitting not far from that pickup truck. So she and I are talking, and out of nowhere some police cars roar up with their sirens going. My first thought was to wonder if her son had called the cops. Why else would they be there?
So Heather Connell went to speak with one of them, and I spoke to another one. They told us they'd received a call, or some sort of tip, about a bomb threat. Someone told them that that pickup truck was wired. But they made no move to take us from the park, or even ask us to get out of there. It was straight out of the Twilight Zone, and we were both badly shaken by it.
But it was her reaction that really threw me, more than those police cars showing up. She started shaking, even her lips were shaking--I'd never seen anything like that before.
She then asked me if I was FBI, and asked me to empty out my purse (I was dressed very casually in a skirt and sweatshirt, and had a large leather purse with me) to make sure I was not recording her. She also asked me to turn off my cell phone.
I was in such shock that to this day I can remember every detail of those few minutes from when the cops arrived to when she asked me to turn off my cell.
MCM: Did she make some move to leave? Or ask you to leave?
LA: No. Not at all. Not once during our roughly one-hour meeting was I asked to leave, nor did she try to leave. Not until we'd finished talking did we both get up to leave. And neither, strangely, did those cops ask us to leave, although they stuck around examining the truck.
MCM: Did you two talk about anything else?
LA: I can't get into all of it, for various reasons. But she told me about the engine troubles on her husband's plane the week before--on September 18th. But she did not appear concerned at all, or mention anything about suspicions. And I didn't think to ask because, at the time, I didn't think anything of it either.
I also asked her what she thought about Mike's having been subpoenaed--and again I was surprised, as she had no idea he'd been subpoenaed, and did not believe me. So I told her that there was a case in Columbus, raising allegations about Mike, and that she should ask him about it. She told me that her husband "is a good man"--a "God-fearing man" --and that "we are both pro-life." I replied that someone could be a good person and still end up in a bad situation. She seemed very reluctant to accept this, and I didn't push it.
There were a few other items, which I don't wish to get into yet.
MCM: You said you'd been reluctant to call her in advance, or even show up at her home, because of the alleged threats. Did you ask her any more about the threats?
LA: Yes. I asked her if she felt threatened. She said no. I asked her if she'd actually been threatened. She said no to this as well. I asked her if her husband had been threatened, and she said no. What I believe is that she really wasn't in the loop: that Mike kept her completely unaware of what was going on--including the alleged threats, the Columbus case, the work he did, and his struggle over whether to come forward. I think she's a good person, who's simply overwhelmed by all of this, and I felt badly for her.
MCM: Well, Renner's piece makes clear that Mike Connell also saw himself as a good person, and so did members of his church. This whole story raises very troubling questions as to how the sense of total righteousness can lead us into doing wrong.
So how did your conversation end?
LA: I gave her my contact information and I asked her to please pass it along to her husband. I told her that I would not contact either one of them again, unless they asked me to. I made it clear that this was a one-time deal for him to talk to me--assuming there was anything for him to talk about. What I said was something like, "This offer expires in 24 hours, and then I'm not going to contact you folks again." I did encourage her and/or her husband to get back to me if they should want to share something, and that they could do so for any reason and at any time. But I made clear that I would not be reaching out to them again in anyway, shape or form.
I told her that I enjoyed meeting her and she seemed very calm. We hugged each other. My colleague had come back with the car, and so I left.
MCM: Did you ever contact her again?
LA: No, per my promise, I did not--not even after Mike died, because I'd said I wouldn't.
I conveyed my sympathies through other folks with whom I was in contact, but I did not attempt to contact her in any way
MCM: Did she ever contact you? Or did Mike, for that matter?
LA: On that, I can say only that there was contact, as one might put it with a source, but the details I am not free to discuss. I want to say again, however, that I never contacted Heather Connell's home or emailed her or mailed her anything, or otherwise did anything to justify the misreporting by the Cleveland Scene.
MCM: Speaking of which, what do you make of Renner's claim that the Connells asked their lawyers to file for a restraining order?
LA: I really don't know what to make of it. She elected to meet me on her own, alone, in a park. She talked with me for around an hour. I then went my way and never broke my promise not to contact her again. How that would translate into her then going home and having Mike file a restraining order is beyond me. I think the reporter may have gotten it wrong, or maybe Heather was referring to someone else. I can't believe that she would lie about that.
At the same time, I couldn't get an answer from the Cleveland Scene as to how Renner went about confirming it. The editors would only say that they refused to make corrections or retractions on any point, while Renner, as I said before, was too contemptous of online journalism to discuss that point or any other. So I'm still wondering, did he talk to Connell's lawyers, to see if they ever had such a discussion? I simply find it hard to believe, since her one talk with me was voluntary, and I never tried to contact her again. There simply were no grounds for a restraining order. So I don't know what it means--or why it was reported as it was.
Everyone comes off looking bad in that article: Heather comes off looking unstable and a little crazy--which she certainly is not, at least from what I saw. Cliff Arneback comes off looking like he's chasing aliens, while I've always found him to be a very moderate and restrained attorney. And worst of all is Connell himself. He comes across as someone leading a double life, with no mention of his struggle to come forward. That's not fair. As I told Heather during our meeting, someone can be a good person, go to church and do all the right things, and still end up in a bad situation, surrounded by unethical people. It's not an either/or situation. I don't think he intended to do wrong. I believe he was exploited by others, and came to understand that later, and hoped somehow to set things right.
MCM: Finally, a question about something else that Connell was involved in, according to Stephen Spoonamore: the missing White House emails. Do you think that they're out there somewhere, in backup form?
LA: Yes, I do. And I think that there are others who know where. The question is, how do we get to them, and get them to talk? Mike Connell was apparently our closest link to that essential evidence. Sadly, we have lost much with his death.
Mark's new book, Loser Take All
: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008, a collection 14 essays on Bush/Cheney's election fraud since (and including) 2000, is just out, from Ig Publishing.
He is also the author of Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform
which is now out in paperback from Basic Books, with over 100 pages of new material.
He may be reached through his blog at markcrispinmiller.com
. A movie based on his
off-Broadway show, A Patriot Act, is available on DCD at www.patriotnation.com