KKKarl Rove, the Theft of Ohio in 2004 and the Death of Michael Connell

AMY GOODMAN: So now let’s go back to Ohio, in fact, Ohio and SMARTech. This is the one chance you ever had to question Karl Rove about that.

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. And I met Karl Rove in Alabama, and I asked him. And he said, "SMARTech? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it."

Well, SMARTech is a high-tech company in Chattanooga. And what you see with Rove’s methodology is he manages to have things happen in his benefit, and there are no fingerprints. But I traced the ownership of SMARTech and its precursors, and the original company was funded by two—its precursor, rather, was funded by two Republicans named Bill DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds. Mercer Reynolds was finance chairman of the Republican Party. In ’04, he raised about a quarter of a billion dollars for the Bush-Cheney campaign. And in the ’80s, they had bailed out George W. Bush in his oil ventures, DeWitt and Reynolds had. So they were very, very close to him.

And this company started off as a very legitimate high-tech company in Chattanooga during the dot-com boom. It later reformed under a different name and different ownership, but by then it had become very much a political operation. So, this was a highly, highly partisan Republican high-tech company. It hosted—its biggest clients included the Bush-Cheney campaign, it included Jeb Bush, it included the Republican National Committee. It streamed live the convention, the Republican convention.

And somehow or other, in 2004, in the state of Ohio, which was the single most crucial state in the electoral college, when it came to the actual voting, the secretary of state of Ohio, a guy named Ken Blackwell—and the secretary of state’s job is to—part of it is to ensure fair, nonpartisan elections—happened to be co-chair of the Bush campaign. Now, there’s no conflict there. And he gave a contract to host the fail oversight for the Republican—rather, for the votes in 2004, to none other than SMARTech. And this is where things went a little crazy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But how was that allowed to happen even? I mean—

CRAIG UNGER: Well, I mean, I think it is a huge conflict of interest on the face of it for the secretary of state of a party to be affiliated with one campaign or the other. And we saw it, of course, in Florida in 2000 with Katherine Harris.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, 2004, election night, tell us the story.

CRAIG UNGER: Right, Well, about at 11:14 p.m., things started to happen, exactly 11:14 p.m. And as the votes came in, it was clear it was going to be an all-nighter in terms of the results. And around 11:00, Florida was called for Bush, and that meant the entire fate of the election hinged on Ohio. So, suddenly—excuse me—the servers for the secretary of state’s computers were flooded with queries.

AMY GOODMAN: Ohio secretary of state.

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. And they needed to lock into the fail oversight in Chattanooga with SMARTech. And this is where the results went a little crazy. And suddenly, an enormous number of irregular returns came in, and the votes shifted. The exit polls had shown Kerry winning Ohio, and therefore the election. And it looked like he had won the presidential election. I remember that day vividly because I was getting reports from the exit polls, and I went around telling people it looked like Kerry had won. But there was a 6.7 percent difference between the exit polls and the actual results. And as a result, the election ended up going to Bush. And that was the entire story.
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AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, I want to go one more time back to Ohio, because you really focus on these issues in the book. Michael Connell, who he was, and what his death meant?

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, he was known as Rove’s sort of cyber-guru, and he had a company called New Media that was—hosted all its work at SMARTech, as I—the company I mentioned earlier. And what you see there is, again, a highly partisan Republican operative who gets involved in what are supposed to be nonpartisan activities. And there were a number of things going on there. What first struck my attention is he got contracts to host the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, a lot of government committees, which included emails and so forth of Democrats. And I thought back to Watergate, of course, when the Republicans broke in to get one file from the Watergate office. Here, they presumably had access to thousands and thousands of files for many, many years. Whether they used that or not, I don’t really know.

They were also—you know, but Connell—one of the things that’s very interesting is how evidence disappeared again and again and again in this case. And what you saw is that in all of these scandals—in the U.S. attorneys scandal and the Valerie Plame scandal—Rove’s emails were subpoenaed, and they were hosted at SMARTech. And, oops, millions of emails mysteriously disappeared. Now, these were supposedly under the—protected by the Presidential Preservation Records Act [Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act], and the destruction of government documents is a very, very serious crime. But every attempt to investigate turns up naught. And Mike Connell became increasingly an important witness in this case. He was subpoenaed once. There was a case investigating the 2004 election. He was supposed to testify again. And finally, before he could testify again, he died in a plane crash, in a solo private plane.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask you about Stephen Spoonamore, a former John McCain supporter and a highly successful expert of the detection of computer fraud. In 2008, he named Mike Connell and his company, GovTech Solutions, as having played a crucial role in the electronic subversion of the vote in Ohio in 2004. I want to ask you more about Spoonamore, but first I want to turn to a 2008 interview Democracy Now! did with the media scholar Mark Crispin Miller shortly after Mike Connell died in a plane crash. In this clip, Miller says Connell asked Spoonamore how one would go about destroying White House emails.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: 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.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Mark Crispin Miller speaking to Democracy Now! Do you think Ohio 2004 was stolen, and do you think it’s possible that something like that could happen in the 2012 election?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, there was no question there was massive fraud. If you want to actually count the votes, unfortunately it’s impossible because so much evidence was destroyed. And then that’s why Mike Connell was such an important witness, and his death meant that—you know, I quoted—I talked to Mike Connell’s sister, who said either—there are only two possibilities, really, that Connell was murdered—and I don’t see any evidence of that—or that he was in an accident, in which case Karl Rove is the luckiest man alive.

Could this happen again? I think—you know, I think electronic voting is very, very dangerous, and it’s very easy to manipulate. But I also found evidence in Ohio of extraordinary kinds of fraud that could happen with punchcard ballots, as well, through very elaborate and byzantine means of—known as cross-voting. And I think a lot of people don’t realize, when you go into a voting booth and you see another voting booth nearby, if you voted the same way in the adjoining booth, in the wrong booth, or if your punchcard is counted by the different computer, it would register to a different vote.