Cliff Arnebeck, lead attorney in the growing federal election conspiracy case tells The BRAD BLOG that the loss of a key witness will not deter his pursuit of justice
U.S. Dept. of Justice ignored months-long effort to protect GOP 'IT guru' following reported threats from Karl Rove...
By Brad Friedman on 12/22/2008, 1:52pm PT  

-- Brad Friedman, The BRAD BLOG

The lead attorney in the widening 2004 federal election fraud conspiracy case which began in Ohio --- but is rapidly growing to other states and other elections --- says that the stunning death of a key witness last Friday is a blow to the case, but not the end of it by a long shot.

"Michael Connell was a critically important witness. His loss hurts our case," Cliff Arnebeck, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville v. OH Sec. of State lawsuit, told The BRAD BLOG in an email responding to questions about Connell's death. The Republican 'IT guru,' a top IT consultant to Karl Rove, George W. Bush, John McCain, and a bevy of congressional Republicans, had been in the nation's capital on still-unknown business before his single engine plane crashed Friday night on the way home, just three miles short of the runway in Akron, Ohio. The cause of the crash remains similarly unknown as of today.

"We will have to adjust," Arnebeck told us in response to queries about where the case may necessarily need to go from here. "The kind of organized criminal enterprise we are addressing requires the resources of the very best that the investigative press corps and law enforcement, at all levels, can muster."

As posted on the New York Times website in full on Saturday, the last line of a press release from VelvetRevolution.us, who has retained Arnebeck as counsel in the case, reads "Our prior request to have Mr. Connell protected went unheeded and now he is dead." [DISCLOSURE: The BRAD BLOG is a co-founder of VR.]

However, despite Connell's elite status as a top-rung Republican consultant for years --- he reportedly received some $800,000 from the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004 alone --- the NYTimes, the nation's paper of record, has yet to run anything else on the death of the man who, Arnebeck notes, he had intended to both further depose, as well as call to testify as a key trial witness in the federal conspiracy case. Coverage from the UK's Telegraph, however, is published here.

Connell had been compelled by the federal district judge in the case, on the Friday prior to last month's Presidential Election, to give a deposition to plaintiff attorneys on the Monday before the general election. The order for that deposition came after the OH attorneys had sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, seeking protection for Connell and his wife. While Connell had expressed a willingness to testify about what he knew concerning the '04 election, and the election website network he had created for Ohio's then-Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, he had become reticent after Rove had sent threats to Connell and his wife, according to tipsters...

"We have been confidentially informed by a source we believe to be credible that Karl Rove has threatened Michael Connell, a principal witness we have identified in our King Lincoln case in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that if he does not agree to 'take the fall' for election fraud in Ohio, his wife Heather will be prosecuted for supposed lobby law violations," the attorneys' letter to Mukasey read. (The full letter was posted by The BRAD BLOG here in July.)

Arnebeck says that, despite the letter sent nearly five months ago to the DoJ "seeking protection for Mr. Connell and his family from this reported attempt to intimidate a witness," as well as several messages sent to highly-placed DoJ officials, he has yet to receive a reply from the nation's top law enforcement agency.

Over the weekend, he sent another email "expressing the hope that the very best resources will be applied to the airplane crash investigation."

In response to questions about how Connell's death on Friday might affect his lawsuit going forward, Arnebeck told us, "I thought that by getting all of this to the top career organized crime guy at Justice, we had established a protective spotlight around Connell. Connell's death, however it was caused, is tragic."

"Connell was a man of conscience," the attorney says, "I was very much looking forward to continuing our conversation that began with the Friday hearing in Cleveland just before the election."

But, Arnebeck adds, the information that they were able to get from the Republican "IT guru" in that court-ordered deposition, will be useful nonetheless. "Everything we have learned about Mike Connell, including his cooperation in personally attending the motion hearing on Friday, and the deposition on Monday, before the election, gave us information we can build upon."

The transcript of the deposition, however, may still not be made publicly available for some time. During that Friday hearing on Connell's attempt to quash his subpoena to testify, US District Judge Solomon Oliver compelled that the deposition go forward, but required certain material remain sealed.

"The transcript of Mike Connell's deposition is before the court for in camera review," Arnebeck says. "James Ervin, Mr. Connell's trial attorney, has requested that portions of the transcript be sealed on the basis that they discuss trade secrets. If accorded protection by the court on that basis, the protected interest would be held by [Connell's corporation.]"

As to what may have happened to Connell's plane, which a report from a local Cleveland CBS affiliate noted "might [have been] sabotaged," the attorney demured.

"I have a number of opinions," he said, "but more important are the opinions of the experts in this field. There are criminals who are very concerned about our case."

When asked to elucidate on that comment, Arnebeck replied: "We have highly reliable information but it was communicated to me in a way that should be preserved in confidence."

The 19 Action News report noted, without additional detail (video at end of this article), that "twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane."

Despite the bad news, Arnebeck remains undeterred and seems encouraged by President-elect Barack Obama's nomination of Eric Holder to be the next U.S. Attorney General. "The fact that Rove is leading the effort to derail Obama's AG appointment, suggests that we may be getting the right man to proceed with the necessary work [and] that Justice has already begun to hold Rove accountable."

"We intend to continue to do our job as citizens," Arnebeck concluded, "and very much appreciate your continuing work as a journalist."

NOTE: We will be making a special appearance this evening on the syndicated Peter B. Collins radio show from 5p-6p PT (8p-9p ET) to discuss the death of Connell. Arnebeck is scheduled to join us during that hour. [UPDATE: Audio from that interview now posted here...]

The 19 Action News report on Connell's death, from Cleveland's CBS affiliate, follows below (2:03 mins)...


Previous coverage from The BRAD BLOG on Mike Connell is available in these recent stories:

UPDATE: 12/23/08 Raw video footage, taped by eye and ear-witness at the crash site, is now posted here, along with the audio of the live interview we did last night with Arnebeck and RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrovna on a special edition of the Peter B. Collins Show...

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