When I heard Roger Goodell handpicked the investigator who is going to determine if he engaged in any wrongdoing, I figured the final report would amount to nothing more than a PR/marketing report on behalf of the NFL. Picking one’s judge shrouds the final judgment in partiality.
Then I heard Goodell selected Robert Mueller, a former FBI director and Purple Heart recipient. I thought: maybe Goodell is serious about the investigation. History tells us that former FBI directors surely are able to conduct a thorough and proper investigation in the sports world.
There’s little question former FBI director Louis Freeh competently investigated and reported the systematic sexual abuse that occurred on Penn State’s campus.
And on paper, Mueller, like Freeh, would be an undisputed and proficient investigator, a man more than suited for the charge given to him by Goodell.
Mueller, age 70, has extensive experience investigating corruption cases as an assistant U.S. attorney. Heck, the guy brought down John Gotti. Who can argue with that?
Me. That’s who.
Mueller may have an impressive history, but it’s that history that disqualifies him from conducting the Ray Rice/Ravens investigation.
Mueller is a current partner at the law firm WilmerHale. Ravens president, Richard Cass, is a former WilmerHale partner. Cass worked at WilmerHale for 31 years.
So what Goodell has done is hire a law firm to investigate a former partner of that same law firm.
While there are a great number of ways conflicts of interest arise for lawyers, here's one definition that covers Mueller's involvement:
The conflict of interest is self-evident. The conflict is especially clear and pervasive when examining Cass’s role in the Rice scandal.
Cass worked closely with Rice’s defense attorney, Michael Diamondstein, and helped formulate Rice’s criminal defense strategy. Cass birthed a scheme that would ensure, he thought, the public would never see the inside-elevator video. That plan was to have Rice enter a diversion program with the permission of the prosecutor.
And in order to secure the prosecutor’s permission, Cass wrote a letter on behalf of Rice to the prosecutor, doing his part to get Rice into a program that has accepted less than 1% of defendants similarly situated as Rice (charged with violent felonies), according to ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
Cass also went with and supported Rice at the disciplinary meeting with Goodell. That’s the meeting where Rice truthfully (according to OTL) told Goodell what occurred inside the elevator. That makes Cass a witness to what Rice said or didn’t say.
Let’s take Mueller’s involvement with Goodell, Rice and the Ravens to its completion: litigation over Mueller’s ultimate investigative report. That puts former WilmerHale partner versus current WilmerHale partner, potentially. I would think WilmerHale wouldn’t want to sit on both sides of the courtroom.
Mueller also has incentive not to cast Cass in a disparaging light. If Mueller shows Cass engaged in deceptive acts and/or acted unethically, it could lead to problems for WilmerHale, Mueller’s current employer.
Undoubtedly, Mueller has a conflict of interest by investigating one of WilmerHale’s former partners. At best, there is a distinct appearance of impropriety having Mueller investigate Goodell and the Ravens front office.
Penn State taught us as much.
Prior to Freeh being assigned to investigate the sexual abuse at Penn State, the university placed two of its trustees in charge of the investigation. Penn State came under fire for appointing such “interested investigators.” Faculty at the school demanded an actual independent investigation. That’s when the board of trustees hired Freeh.
As stated in the video, Freeh made it clear that he had “a commitment to show no favoritism toward any of the parties who’s actions we will be reviewing, including the board of trustees.” (3:03).
While we haven’t seen any favoritism from Mueller because the investigation is at its infancy, there is an undeniable look of bias towards one’s own colleague.
Goodell also appointed Art Rooney and John Mara to oversee Mueller’s investigation. Certainly there will be favoritism coming from Rooney and Mara towards Goodell. What incentive do Rooney and Mara have in exposing any of Goodell’s wrongdoing? They’re involvement in the investigation equates to that of the Penn State trustees initially tapped to investigate the university: hyenas patrolling their own den.
Prior to Freeh taking on the Penn State investigation, he demanded “total independence,” which was the “main condition of his engagement.” (3:15).
The opposite rings true with Mueller’s appointment—he is an interested party to the investigation, which taints his entire investigation.
The eventual report Mueller will always have a stain of favoritism on it because of his direct link to Ravens president Cass. If Goodell wants a true independent investigation, then he should hire an independent investigator.
And if the NFL owners—including you Packers shareholders—want a true independent investigation, then they should do as the Penn State faculty did and demand Goodell appoint a disinterested party. Maybe Freeh is available.
But a word of caution to you Green Bay shareholders, don’t be too vocal about this. Included in the fine print of your stock certificate is a strict prohibition against you “publicly criticizing any NFL member club or its management or employees.” And when I say strict, I mean to the tune of $500,000. This Goodell guy, I tell ya.
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