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At Elizabeth Holmes' Trial, a Familiar but Unexpected Face

Ex-SecDef James Mattis testified that former Theranos CEO misled him on blood-testing tech
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 23, 2021 6:45 AM CDT
At Elizabeth Holmes' Trial, a Familiar but Unexpected Face
In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, speaks at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(Newser) – Former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified Wednesday in the trial of fallen tech star Elizabeth Holmes, saying the entrepreneur misled him into believing she was on the verge of rolling out a blood-testing breakthrough that he hoped would help save lives of troops in battle. Mattis' appearance came during the sixth day of a high-profile trial in San Jose, Calif., per the AP. The US government alleges that Holmes duped sophisticated investors, patients, and customers into believing that her startup, Theranos, had developed a technology that could scan for an array of potential health problems with just a few drops of blood.

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During more than three hours of testimony, Mattis, 71, recalled how impressed he was with Holmes when he first met her in 2011 while still serving as a four-star general in the Marine Corps, where he oversaw US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mattis testified that Holmes, whom he affectionally called "young Elizabeth" in emails, initially struck him as a "sharp, articulate, committed" CEO, and that he found the blood-testing method she pitched "pretty breathtaking" for its potential applications in the field of battle.

Holmes, now 37, ended up convincing Mattis to join the Theranos board of directors in 2013, even though he had no medical background. Mattis testified that Holmes wanted him on the board to help teach her about leadership and team building. Mattis said he also decided to invest $85,000 of his own savings so he would have some "skin in the game." Theranos paid him $150,000 annually as a board member, per evidence submitted Wednesday by Holmes' lawyers, though Mattis testified he told Holmes he would do it for free because "I believe in what you are doing."

By the time he left Theranos in late 2016, Mattis testified he'd lost faith in Holmes. His disillusionment began a year earlier after a series of explosive articles published in the Wall Street Journal exposed troubling flaws and inaccuracies in Theranos' blood-testing technology. Those revelations triggered Theranos' downfall and culminated in the criminal case against Holmes, which could send her to prison for up to 20 years if she's convicted. "There became a point where I didn't know what to believe about Theranos anymore," Mattis said. As he testified, Holmes watched him intently, without displaying much emotion. She maintains her innocence.

(Read more Lt. Gen. James Mattis stories.)

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