Connell Deposition Sealed on Answers to Threats from
Columbus, Ohio: Mike Connell, a long-time Bush family IT handyman who whose religious convictions and political ideology have driven him to work exclusively for Republican grops and officeholders, endured two hours of deposition ordered last Friday by a Federal court judge in Cleveland, according Clifford O. Arnebeck, who after questioning the computer experts some call the high-IQ Forrest Gump of the computer world, "If there's any concern about Connell not being a team player, there's no need for that concern."
In an email to OhioNewsBureau from one ePluribus Media researcher who had talked with Mr. Arnebeck following today's deposition, Mr. Connell was "very relaxed" but an "obstructionist" when it came time to answer Arnebecks questions about his role in 2004 and 2004 designing Ohio election computer systems, whether he had been threatened by Karl Rove to not implicate "Bush's Brain" in voting corruption practices during the last eight years and what he knew about Triad, a technology company hosting the voter registration databases of 55 of Ohio's 88 counties sources, and whether they stole votes from Democrat to in Ohio, and maybe other states then and now, as some suspect happened in previous elections.
Anatomy of a Deposition
"This is about politics...seeking to re-try an election that has already taken place," said James Ervin, one of the defense attorneys in court in Cleveland last Friday on behalf of their client Mike Connell. Mike the IT Guru could become as famous as Joe The Plumber, but for different services. Whereas Joe The Plumber says he cleans out drains to make water flow freely despite not being a licensed plumber, Mike the IT Guru may being using his considerable computer expertise to allow votes to flow freely from Democratic candidates like Kerry in 2004 to Republican candidates, as Mr. Arnebeck and others hope deposing him will show. A data security expert lending his credibility and expertise to Mr. Arnebeck said Mr. Connell is extremely adept at designing and managing computer architecture such that it can be "tuned" to Republican candidates like President Bush in 2004 and maybe now, who he worked for after leaving the White House but who he says he no longer works for.
In a official court transcript received by OhioNewsBureau of the proceedings from last week, Connell's defense team argued before Federal Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., that the lawsuit filed in 2006, alleging voter suppression and violations of voting rights, has limped along with little to show for itself, changing its focus from the election of 2004 to the elections of 2006 and now 2008.
Mr. Ervin said the result of deposing his client, as plaintiff attorneys in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville case want to do, would do nothing to produce admissible information or evidence, but would provide fodder for conspiracy theorists, who contend President Bush won Ohio and a second term in the White House due to the cyber work Connell and his associates put in place to flip votes from John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, to President Bush.
Bush won Ohio by 188,601 votes, a thin margin some say was the result of illegal election tampering work ordered by Karl Rove, President Bush's long time friend and top political adviser.
Mr. Ervin, responded to the reasons given Mr. Arnebeck, lead plaintiff attorney, to why Mr. Connell needs to be deposed before Election Day on Tuesday -- one reason being to learn from the IT guru whether Ohio is poised to be compromised this year, as he believes the states of New Mexico and Colorado are -- said of the proceedings,"I think this sounds more like a witch hunt, the fact that Mr. Connell may associate with one person somehow makes him culpable for allegations that have yet to be proven."
Previously, Mr. Arnebeck, a Columbus attorney, said that by virtue of Mr. Connell's "interests in social issues which are of similar concern or interest to people at Triad, so we understand they have some common communications in another setting, in a religious setting."
Triad is a technology company that hosted numerous Ohio county servers in previous elections and is doing similar work in Ohio this year. Connell, as others have said, is a strong supporter of pro-life issues.
"...the fact that Mr. Connell may associate himself with Republicans, that he may share some religious belief that are the same of other individuals, that he may have personal moral or social values that may be similar to others, I don't think is a basis for Mr. Arnebeck to be able to inquire of him to lead to the discovery of evidence that would support his client's claims," Mr.Ervin argued, in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to quash Arnebeck's subpeona compelling Connell to answer questions central to what he knew about the election of 2004, and his work for then Republican-Secretary of State in Ohio Ken Blackwell, and if any such device designed to compromise elections is at play in this year's race for the White House in Ohio or elsewhere.
Connell's defense team said the case, moribund for years with no discovery or case scheduling, is now looking at their client in a late-inning effort to find someone to tag candiate Kerry's loss on. "And so now at this late date Mr. Connell appears to be a scapegoat for Mr.Arnebeck's clients to try to add substance to a theory that is based on speculation and conjecture," he said, adding, "The political machinations of the plaintiff should not be fostered or facilitated through this courtroom, and that is what is going on here."
From the standpoint of the "four corners of the pleading and complaint," Mr. Ervin said the 2008 election is not pertinent and if team Arnebeck wants to learn about current vendors doing business with the state, they could take that up with Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, who was elected secretary of state in 2006, when Ohio Democrats won four of five statewide seats.
Listening in from Columbus on behalf of Ms. Brunner was an attorney who confessed to knowing little if anything about the case. Two other attorneys from the Ohio Attorney General's office, which represents statewide office holders such as the secretary of state, were also present via telephone. One of them, Assistant Ohio Attorney General Richard Coglianese, seemed to offer more help to defense attorneys through his comments that cut across the grain of arguments from plaintiff attorneys.
Mr. Ervin challenged the serving of a subpoena on Mr. Connell in Maryland, saying the server was working in league with Arnebeck and "showed up with a camera crew and began to harass our client, and almost threw the subpoena at him, saying that he's served."
One big difference between Mike the IT Guru and Joe The Plumber, is that Mr. Connell does own his own small business, a point Mr. Ervin used to explain why his clients needs to take care of the needs of his clients instead of wasting time in a court room tilting at political windmills. "And for him to lose any day any time cuts into his ability to take care of his family. And in this economy every dollar counts and every hour that you can earn revenue is quite important," Ervin told Judge Simon of the Northern District Court, who said his only task was to focus on this subpoena, not the case, which still resides with Judge Algernon Marbley of the Southern District.
Four Questions of the Apocalypse
Ascending his learning curve on the case in quick fashion, because it wasn't a case assigned to his court, Judge Oliver, said there has has a "method to his madness" in what his decision would be about agreeing to quash the subpoena or allow a deposition on Mr. Connell to go forward.
The first question Judge Oliver was concerned about was Mr. Arnebeck's contention that Karl Rove had threatend Mr. Connell and his wife with prosecution, from which Rove allegedly said there would be no pardon, if Mr. Rove was implicated in the theft of the 2004 election or other corrupt political activities over the last eight years. Mr. Arnebeck has asked the US Dept. of Justice to detain certain documents related to Rove, as part of his intention to charge him under Ohio's corrupt practices act. Rove has used executive privilege to keep away from testifying to Congress. Mr. Arnebeck said that tactic wouldn't work in Ohio.
His second question was about Mr. Connell's role in the design and management of the Ohio computer system for administering elections, and whether such a role could provide, as Arnebeck believes it can, whether any "Trojan" piece of software exists, such that it could give a key "inside track" to some one unauthorized to access the system.
Oliver's third question was about other states, and whether the pattern of manipulation known as "Man in the Middle," involving strategic placement of one computer so it controls all others, is, as Arnebeck believes, extant today in Ohio or New Mexico or Colorado, as he speculates it was in Ohio in 2004 and 2006.
"We believe there's an ongoing conspiracy. It exists today, it's in play today. And that's what we're seeking to discover, relevant information to that as it applies to the current threat to the integrity of the 2008 elections," Mr. Arnebeck said to Judge Oliver.
Bordering on being totally unhelpful despite the decison in September by he and his client, , to lift the stay in Mr. Arnebeck's case, leading to Monday's deposition of Mr. Connell, Assistant AG Coglianese said he is "personally having trouble figuring out how that fits into this case" and noted that in any event, issues related to voting in other states would not be relieved in Ohio.
From his certainty that there's nothing hidden in any computer system, it seems Mr. Arnebeck ought to depose Mr. Coglianese and his client along with Mr. Connell, based on Coglianese's stark statement that "we would maintain that even if this happened in the past, it is not going on now." How do they know that, and what's the basis for that declaration, given the purpose of deposing Mr. Connell is to find aspects of the state's voting system that are, by their very nature virtually unknowable with out conducting forensic computer audits and analysis?
The fourth question Judge Oliver focused on related to Triad, the technology company that now contracts with 55 of Ohio's 88 Ohio boards of elections for services related to the management of voter registration databases that are being hosted on the company's servers. Mr. Arnebeck believes Mr. Connell knows information about Triad because of his work with Ohio in 2004 and 2006. "My sense of it, Your Honor, is that he (Connell) has some knowledge of the character of the management of that company, yes, among other things. And what they do, the role they played in the last election, the role they are playing in the current election," Mr. Arnebeck told Judge Oliver. Triad runs the tabulators at the county level that count the votes and reports them to the secretary of state. Simply put, Triad controls the elections in the counties they service. They report the vote totals to county election officials, who then send them up to state officials. If manipulations happen, they are not done in plain sight, so has Brunner's shop ferreted out any portals or "Trojans" placed by Connell and company in year's past?
Struggling to under Arnebeck's method of madness, Judge Oliver pressed the attorney to be specific. "You know, you can't just throw things out there," he said.
Mr. Arnebeck tried again. "...the fact that the representative in Congress (Michigan Congressman ) focused on is the fact that Triad changed out the hard drive in the tabulator computer before the recount. And our expert (Stephen Spoonamore) says there's only one reason you would do that, and that is to erase and destroy the evidence of a software manipulation of that tabulator."
Judge Oliver was more helpful to Arnebeck that attorneys from his own attorney general and secretary of state. Wrestling to take what he though wasArnebeck's shotgun approach and turn it into a rifle, shot, Judge Oliver said of the focus on Mr. Connell, "...I don't think he's the only person that knows something about elections. And all of a sudden it is all focused at this time and this moment in a way which is going to save the whole election system? If that's the case, save us all, because I don't see how that can be."
The Method of Judge Oliver's Madness
Returing to the courtroom after a ten minute recess to announce his decision, Judge Oliver said that while the case had languished for years due to promises from new, Democratic office holders to pursue the issues inArnebeck's original lawsuit, the lifting of the stay was done for purpose, even Judge Marbley didn't specificy what it was.
Judge Oliver took pains to frame what the deposition would do, the questions to be asked, the time it would take and other matters, put in the context of a clocking ticking down to Election Day.
But in the end, Judge Oliver compelled Mr. Connell to be deposed Monday. He also sanctioned Arnebeck asking Mr. Connell about whether or not he has been threatened by Mr. Rove in 2008 "relative to your expressing any opinions about him or his conduct growing out of the 2004 election, or related issues of that type."
With 2004 over and one with for four years, Judge Oliver took pains to make this point: "I understand the theories, some of the theories of this case, and I understand some of the emotion around this 2004 election and other elections, but you are not going to win your case for 2004 with this deposition, not right now. And so I am just trying to be clear, you are not going to pack two and a half years of litigation into this deposition." He warned Arnebeck to stick to the issues discussed and not make up for lost time in a case that has very little to show for itself so far. "I can't say that any more strongly than I'm saying that to you now. So you are going to have to be reasonable, and you are going to have to stop at some point. There may be a day when you can come back, and there may be a day when you can follow up."
What Judge Oliver did identify as critical in the deposition is to plumb Mr. Connell's role in the design and management of the computer system for which he had a role over which he managed in 2004. But in the next breath, Judge Oliver questioned why Arnebeck would want to follow this line of questioning, given the statement by Mr.Coglianese that any system Mr. Connell may have worked on is no longer in place in Brunner's agency.
Narrowing what Mr. Arnebeck could ask Mr. Connell about, Judge Oliver took questions about New Mexico and Colorado off the radar screen of possible questions because they are not part of the lawsuit. He gave a green light to questions about Triad, the voter tabulation company, but again limited Mr. Arnebeck's range of questions.
After some haggling over logistics and recordings, Judge Oliver agreed that Mr. Connell could be deposed again, but only on compelling reasons; that no videotaping would occur to avoid it showing up in the blogosphere and for the security of Mr. Connell and that the transcript would be made in the public domain but redacted where it relates to any threats made by Mr. Rove or the revealing of trade secrets by Mr. Connell. Attorneys agreed to conduct it at Cleveland in mid morning.
Ref: United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division: Case No. 1:08MC00105
John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.
Ohio, Mike Connell, George W. Bush, John McCain, Ohio Attorney General, Jennifer Brunner, voting, voter registration, Triad, voter suppression, Joe The Plumber