Guest Blogged by Rebecca M. Abrahams
On December 18, 2008, Bush IT expert Mike Connell, a highly skilled pilot, was killed in a sudden crash while flying his small aircraft from Washington DC to his Akron/Canton home airport. The cause of the crash is still unknown and under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
For more than ten months, Connell's family has been coping with feelings of disbelief, anger and confusion and has many unanswered questions about the man they knew and loved.
For Connell's widow Heather, holding her husband's New Media consulting firm together is a daily struggle.
"The more I learn about the crash the more sick it makes me - the destruction of the plane. I found a pack of the I-pod ear buds in a tree. I'm obsessed with the Blackberry. I don't have the Blackberry. I have his backpack. I have his paperwork, his schedule. None of his paperwork is burned up. One of his prayer books burned on the outside. I think there was a lot thrown from the plane."
Although mainly un-reported, there's a great deal of controversy surrounding Connell's death - largely in part because he was the architect of many Republican websites including GeorgeWBush.com and GWB43.com, the site Karl Rove used for 95% of his email correspondence. Connell was also considered a key witness in the election fraud lawsuit King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association v. Blackwell. The suit implicates Former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth J. Blackwell, Karl Rove and others of 2004 election night vote rigging.
Attorneys in the case believe that Connell, who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, had firsthand knowledge about the missing White House emails and Rove's alleged wrongdoing with respect to the 2004 Presidential election.
His wife, and those attorneys, are not the only ones still focused on questions about what actually happened to Mike Connell nearly one year ago, and in the years prior...
'Way too convenient'
Connell, 45, was the oldest of six children. His sister Shannon Connell describes her family as very close, despite differing political opinions.
"Even though we had different political beliefs, there's always been a close tie among siblings. In fact, my parents were Kennedy Democrats. But then after Kennedy, they started voting more for Republicans and I would say that in our family we range from progressive to conservative and Mike and one of my other siblings are staunch Republicans."
Although her brother never spoke of his work, Shannon believes that Mike's ties to the Bush Administration and the GOP are somehow related to his death.
"It just seems way too convenient, the timing since he had been deposed. He didn't get to testify. But I don't think he would've perjured himself. When it comes down to it, he was basically an honest person. If push came to shove and he was under oath testifying, I believe that he would've told the truth. I think that there were other people who believed that as well."
Connell's wife Heather acknowledges he received threats in the months leading up to his death. But says she was unaware Connell was told not to fly.
"I have spent days and days and days trying to figure it all out. I don't think he would lie to me. Number one, I don't think he took the threats seriously. I never heard 'Don't fly.' I never knew my husband as Bush's IT guru. He built lots of Republican websites… He built Jeb's site, George's site, George's 2nd site --- his campaign sites. I don't know what involvement he had with SmartTech. That I don't know. I just knew what sites he built. SmartTech was the big hosting center. Everything was hosted at SmartTech. That's where the access would be --- not at New Media. I was signing lots of checks for hosting fees, huge payments to SmartTech for hosting websites that New Media built."
The King-Lincoln lawsuit maintains the results of the 2004 election were routed through SmartTech servers in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Election Night before being rerouted back to Ohio's then-Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, an Evangelical Christian and former Co-Chair of the Bush/Cheney Ohio Campaign. Blackwell's office claims this transfer was necessary due to a tabulation server overload at State election headquarters in Columbus that night. Connell's other company, GovTech was hired by the State of Ohio to build election night servers and GovTech subcontracted work to SmarTech.
Connell's links to the Bush Administration went beyond his work at New Media and GovTech. He was the former college roommate of Barry Jackson, Karl Rove's top deputy and former head of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives. During the time Jackson held that position, he was responsible for forging the long-term goals of the Administration and the GOP. Jackson was also one of the White House employees found using GeorgeWBush.com to email a former aide to lobbyist Jack Abramoff about nominating one of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients for a Medal of Freedom.
Shannon says Jackson and her brother were very close friends. "Barry was a really good friend to Mike. I personally didn't get along with him. Just kind of a clash of personalities, I guess. I think it was because I am a feminist. I didn't think he treated women as equals. But he's been really supportive with Mike's kids and he was at the memorial for the whole time in Ohio."
Despite allegations and revelations about her husband's ties to the Administration, Heather says Connell's not the man people say he is.
"He surely wasn't a Forrest Gump. Maybe I am naive. But they railroaded him in pulling him to testify. But I think my husband would tell the truth in court. Whether you liked it or not, my husband didn't lie. I think it's one of the reasons people went to him. He was known to be a person of integrity. He was a trusted person. But to my knowledge he was never going to testify. Point blank. He felt like those bloggers were just taking pot shots, you know, politics is a dirty game. The fact they deposed him [the day] before the [2008 Presidential] election --- give me a break. It's almost like a dirty political strategy. There's nothing he could really tell except answer 'yes, they were my client.' He was angry that the judge allowed them to call him in the day before the election when he should be doing his job. He was like, 'this is just stupid.' He was stressed out."
Recently, the Connell family has been dealt another blow --- an anonymous memo penned by someone identifying themselves as "Mark Felt" (the name of the man who was ultimately revealed to be "Deep Throat"), cataloguing an order and mission to remotely intercept and rig the instrument panel of Mike Connell's plane then "sanitize" the area.
Heather confirms receipt of this memo, which was cc'd to six unknown recipients.
Those close to the case believe the person behind the memo is a real informant with inside knowledge about Connell's plane crash. There are a number of Intelligence officials looking into it, including the FBI. The FBI field agent in charge of the case, Jack Vickery, did not return my calls. But Cliff Arnebeck, the prosecuting attorney in the case and the one who deposed Mike Connell last November, issued the following statement:
The "Jackal" that Arnebeck refers to is a hired assassin. Former CIA operative John Perkins wrote about such "jackals" in his book, Confessions of an Economic HitMan, and says while he doesn't have any inside knowledge about Connell's death, he would not be surprised if he was murdered.
"It wouldn't surprise me a bit. They've certainly assassinated a lot of people in this country. The Kennedys were assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It's entirely possible that Paul Wellstone was assassinated. We've had a long, long history of assassinations. It's extremely successful in terms of turning politics around and getting people off cases. In a way, Bill Clinton was assassinated but it was a personality assassination. The Connell case is just one more possibility."
Perkins adds, plane crashes have always been a weapon of choice among Jackals. "It' so easy to cover it up. The evidence is destroyed and everybody knows airplanes are fragile anyway, small airplanes in particular. So it's a very clean type of assassination in terms of ways to do it because the area where the plane crash happens can be quickly cordoned off…and the evidence can be cleaned up very quickly and most of it is destroyed anyway. But if there's anything left, it can be disposed of very, very quickly."
Eyewitness video footage
from night of crash.
Connell's sister Shannon says the memo confirms her suspicions of foul play. "If there was foul play that's what makes sense. Mike was a threat to somebody. I'm pretty cynical about government but for lack of a better word I think the Bushes and their cronies are a bit evil but Mike was loyal to them."
Heather remains unconvinced and says she will not make any conclusions until she receives the NTSB report, expected before year's end. "All this scares the hell out of me. I don't know. I don't think I'll ever know. Did something happen with his plane? I've scoured through every possible thing."
Conspiracy theories aside, Perkins says the U.S. government has historically used assassination jackals abroad and says it should come as no surprise that they are contracted domestically. "The U.S. President hires Blackwater to do that sort of work for the U.S. government so why wouldn't they do it for themselves particularly if they needed it? If you're a plumber and you fix everybody else's plumbing and your sink breaks, you're probably going to fix yours too."
Heather states if there is an informant, she wants to know who that person is. She also says she'd like the "trusted friend who told Mike not to fly" to come forward.
Shannon says if there were proof of foul play, she believes her family would file a wrongful death suit against Karl Rove. But she says she's not sure her family will ever know what really happened that day in December.
"I think Mike got caught up in some other people's lives and didn't know how to get out or was trying to get out. You know, I'm real cynical about whether justice will be done. A lot of the government officials probably have gotten away with a lot of things. My position now is what's going to make this different? What's different with my brother's death that's any different than Paul Wellstone's?"
Television producer and writer Rebecca Abrahams is a Peabody and 4 time Murrow Award winning veteran of ABC News. She recently co-produced "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery" for HBO Documentaries which won a Scripps Howard Foundation Award for Excellence in Journalism.