Friday, February 22, 2008
Specter irked by uncooperative Pats, league in Spygate probe
By Mike Fish
Frustrated at the obstacles confronting his investigation of "Spygate," Sen. Arlen Specter accused the New England Patriots of "stonewalling" on Friday and suggested the NFL might never get around to questioning key witness Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant.
Specter's comments are in stark contrast to remarks on Wednesday from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who told reporters that the NFL was moving toward an agreement that would allow Walsh to tell what he knows about the Patriots' spying practices without fear of being sued.
"My suspicion is that they're going to put enough conditions on it so that he won't talk," Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, told ESPN.com. "If they had wanted Walsh to talk, it would have been done a long time ago. They are not helped by keeping him on ice, unless they intend to [permanently] keep him on ice."
If the league gains Walsh's cooperation, Specter said he wants to be present when Walsh is questioned "because a witness' testimony can be shaded or molded by who questions him first.''
Walsh, employed by the Patriots from 1996 to 2003, has suggested that he has information, perhaps even materials, about the Patriots' video practices that could be potentially damaging.
His attorney, Michael Levy, forwarded a proposal to the NFL's outside counsel seeking full indemnification for Walsh on Feb. 14. Levy, as well as Specter, maintained that the league's initial proposal failed to protect Walsh against the possibility of being sued, and said it also required that he turn over any materials or evidence.
"They haven't taken the steps to get Walsh to come forward," Specter said. "They have the key."
Late Friday afternoon, NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said the league respectfully disagrees with Specter.
"We have offered Mr. Walsh's attorney assurances that are fully responsive to his concerns," Aiello said. "And we have not heard back from him. ... We very much want to speak to [Walsh]."
As of Friday night, however, the league and Walsh's attorney had not reached an agreement.
An attorney for the Patriots told ESPN.com that Walsh did not have a confidentiality agreement with the franchise or anything else that might prevent his cooperation.
Specter painted a much starker, more contentious picture than the one presented by the league and the Patriots. He said both the Patriots and New York Jets have refused to cooperate with his investigation.
|Sen. Arlen Specter says he would like to be present if the NFL ever questions Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant. |
Specter told ESPN.com that his staff has been rebuffed in its efforts to interview Patriots personnel about the team's videotaping practices. The Republican leader on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to say who, specifically, he wanted to talk to, but the list presumably includes head coach Bill Belichick, his longtime assistant Ernie Adams and members of the team's video department.
"My staff has been stonewalled on that," Specter said.
After his staff made phone contact with some individuals connected to the team, Specter said they were referred to the Patriots' outside legal counsel, who rejected a request for cooperation. Daniel L. Goldberg, who represents the Patriots and also the Boston Red Sox, said that in all cases, the individuals had been previously interviewed at least once -- and in some instances twice -- by the league.
Goldberg refused to identify those individuals.
"Sen. Specter's office had called me as counsel to the Patriots to ask to interview several Patriots employees," said Goldberg, attorney with the Boston firm of Bingham and McCutchen. "I was told that the inquiry was with respect to signal-taping. And as I explained to the Senator's office, we regard this as a league matter. As such, we have fully cooperated with the league's investigation."
Asked to respond to Specter's accusation that the Patriots have stonewalled his requests for information, Goldberg said, "You look at it from our perspective. Who is the right forum for an inquiry into a matter like this? We regard this as a league matter. It deals with league rules, league enforcement."
But Specter, a one-time district attorney in Philadelphia, didn't react favorably to the Patriots' responses to his investigators.
"Well, I think that it is somewhere between absurd to insulting that they won't let us talk to the witnesses," Specter said. "Whoever heard of not being able to talk to someone because it is hearsay back from somebody else who talked to them. You have to question hearsay and reliability. I'm not prepared to accept what somebody else says these key witnesses say. What kind of an inquiry would it be if we accepted what somebody else tells us what was said?"
That it is somewhere between absurd to insulting that they won't let us talk to the witnesses.
-- Sen. Arlen Specter,
on the Patriots' responses
to his investigators
Specter's investigators also have been rebuffed in their efforts to seek access to members of the Jets' coaching staff. During the season-opening game last September at New York, the Patriots were caught taping defensive signals being sent in from the Jets' sideline. The Jets' staff is of key interest in the Spygate affair because several members, including Jets head coach Eric Mangini, worked under Belichick in New England.
"Our firm was engaged to represent certain employees of the New York Jets in connection with a request for information from Sen. Specter," Jets outside legal counsel Scott Michel said in an e-mail to ESPN.com on Friday night. "Our clients have not spoken to the senator or his staff and at this time have no plans to do so."
Specter said Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard, a one-time backup to Tom Brady with the Patriots, refused to speak with him, too, during a personal phone call the Senator placed to Huard last Friday.
"I talked to him, and he wouldn't talk," Specter said. "I didn't go through a secretary, and he doubted that it was Arlen Specter. Maybe that is why he wouldn't talk. I don't sound much like Arlen Specter."
Specter said it is only because of outside pressure that the NFL has offered up additional information related to the Patriots' taping history. Specter explained: "To get a concession from the commissioner that it goes back to the year 2000. To get a concession that they had notes. Originally, we were only told about videos, and they only went back a half-dozen games in '06. Originally, we weren't told that the notes included the [Pittsburgh] Steelers."
Specter said he is aware of what appears to be a united league-wide front supporting Goodell's handling of the taping controversy. That support was echoed Thursday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis by members of the league's powerful Competition Committee, who told reporters they believe the issue should be put to rest.
"Well, I don't want to pick a fight with everybody in the world, like all the owners," Specter said. "But they are functioning from talking points -- 'We're satisfied with the investigation.' 'Oh yes, the penalty was sufficient.' 'Oh, let's put this behind us.' 'Let's move on.'
"You have heard everyone say the same thing."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our clients have not spoken to the senator or his staff and at this time have no plans to do so.
-- Jets outside legal counsel