Robert Mueller choice compromises NFL investigation

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The Boston Globe



Robert Mueller choice compromises NFL investigation

By Dan Shaughnessy

 | Globe Columnist   September 25, 2014
Robert Mueller is a partner in the law  firm WilmerHale, which has ties to the NFL that cannot be ignored. AP Photo/Matt York, File
Matt York/AP file photo
Robert Mueller is a partner in the law firm WilmerHale, which has ties to the NFL that cannot be ignored.
The NFL continues to reel in the wake of its domestic violence scandal, and the league wants to assure you that the truth will come out when former FBI director Robert Mueller completes his review of the conduct of the league and its leader in the days, weeks, and months after Ray Rice punched his fiancée in an elevator in Atlantic City Feb. 15.
It’s certainly possible that we’ll get true disclosure in the Mueller Report. Commissioner-under-siege Roger Goodell pledged that Mueller will have “the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all NFL records.’’
Swell. But this investigation is already compromised and will remain compromised because, despite Mueller’s long and impressive career, his position as a partner at the WilmerHale law firm demonstrates an enormous conflict of interest regarding any investigation involving the NFL.
“Of course this is going to be a tank job,’’ said Michael Albano, former four-term mayor of Springfield and current member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council. “It’s a conflict of interest to use that law firm.
“The NFL must think people are stupid or foolish. Apparently they are the only law firm in the country. Are you kidding me?’’
We know a lot about conflicts of interests here at Morrissey Boulevard — Globe owner John Henry is the principal owner of the Red Sox — and you don’t have to be Woodward or Bernstein to see that Mueller cannot be an “independent” investigator while he is a partner at WilmerHale. WilmerHale represented the NFL during negotiations with DirecTV over the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket” package. The NFL’s current DirecTV deal is worth $4 billion.
Wait, there’s more.
At least three former WilmerHale lawyers now work for the NFL: Jay Bauman, who is the second-highest-ranking NFL lawyer and worked at WilmerHale until 1999, Cleveland Browns president Alec Scheiner, and Baltimore Ravens president Richard Cass. Cass worked at WilmerHale for more than three decades and was a partner before joining the Ravens in 2004.
Cass is knee-deep in the Ray Rice scandal. According to ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” report, Cass did not request to see the damning Rice video when he was told about it by Rice’s defense attorney in April. Cass is also the official who steered Rice into the cushy pretrial intervention program, thus avoiding jail time.
Intrepid CNN reporter Rachel Nichols tried to ask Goodell about this overlapping grip when the commissioner took questions in his disastrous press conference last Friday. Politely prefacing her question with due respect to Mueller’s integrity, then acknowledging Mueller’s firm’s “close ties to the NFL” and Cass’s longtime service for WilmerHale, Nichols asked, “Why hire someone with even the appearance of impropriety . . . ?’’
Goodell non-answer: “I would respectfully disagree, because you now are questioning the integrity of the director of the FBI. Yes, that firm has represented us in the past, but they have also been on the other side in litigation against the NFL.
“Unfortunately we live in a world where there’s a lot of litigation. There’s a lot of law firms, a lot of people that had maybe some interaction with us in the past. Robert Mueller has not. Law firms may have, but we were hiring Robert Mueller and his credentials, his credibility, to do an independent investigation reporting to the owners.”
The former mayor of Springfield doesn’t share Goodell’s impression of Mueller’s credentials.
“Mueller has a history of protecting his own,’’ said Albano. “During part of his time at the FBI, there were 150 shootings involving federal agents and they were all investigated and the FBI was cleared in every one.
“Imagine that. One hundred and fifty and 0. He ought to go to Vegas if he can get odds like that.”
(In 2013, the New York Times reported that from 1993-2011, FBI agents were involved in 150 shootings and internal bureau investigations deemed all 150 shootings justified. Mueller was director of the bureau from 2001-13.)
It should be pointed out that Albano vied with Mueller on a parole case in the 1980s when Albano was serving as a member of the Massachusetts Parole Board and Mueller was an assistant United States attorney.
Also, an FBI investigation into corruption in Springfield 10 years ago resulted in a one-year prison sentence for Albano’s chief of staff and a two-year sentence for a political appointee of Albano’s.
“He’s absolutely the last person you would want in any kind of investigation,” said Albano. “This is going to be a tank job, and Mueller is as good as anyone at that.”
Richard DesLauriers, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, worked for the bureau from 1987-2013, and had this to say about Mueller and his investigation: “I can see your position that there is a potential conflict, but I worked personally with Mr. Mueller. He’s a man of unquestioned integrity. He’s a no-nonsense leader. He will get to the bottom of the facts.
“He’s accustomed to dealing with extremely complex, high-level national security and criminal investigations. He will assemble a high-level team, and I have no doubt that the report he produces will be one that is above reproach from bias in either direction.’’
I tried getting a comment from Mueller. No luck. His law firm was quick to respond, but the former FBI director would not comment on the conflict-of-interest (or any other) issue.
Truly, this is not Mueller’s fault. It’s the NFL’s fault for picking a man from a law firm with so many connections to the NFL. The conflict is the conflict, in and of itself. It has nothing to do with the integrity of the investigator.
Mueller is in an impossible situation. Selecting him to lead this in-house investigation merely represents one more bad decision by Goodell. And it’s an important one.
Fair or unfair, if the Mueller report does not expose a coverup that topples Goodell and some of his high-level staffers, the “internal investigation” is open to the charge that it’s just another bag job by the good old boys.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at Follw him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy
Show 58 Comments
  • PL
    PL09/24/14 03:32 PM
    So because a Mike Albano crossed paths with Mueller nearly 40 years ago, that makes him an expert? A four-term mayor of a two-bit city? Never heard of Albano before this column. Mueller will do a credible job, but without the power of legal subpoenas and the ability to put people under oath, the truth will not come out.
    • pegnva
      pegnva09/24/14 04:08 PM
      Mueller will do the job the NFL hired him to do for their in-house investigation - he's an att'y in the law firm the NFL has used in the past...can you say, "conflict of interest"?
    • rmpjr
      rmpjr09/24/14 04:55 PM
      Absolutely right! Albano is on the Governor's Council, which assesses the qualifications of candidates to become state court judges, but that has no bearing on Albano's qualifications to assess Mueller from an ethical perspective. The fact that they were on opposite sides of an issue in the past merely suggests that they view things differently. This is not a legitimate source for this story. Why not try to Office of Bar Counsel?
  • 84138413
    8413841309/24/14 03:37 PM
    Why would any intelligent person care what Mr. Shaughnessy thinks about this?
    • esfsdfsdf
      esfsdfsdf09/24/14 04:34 PM
      Care to refute?
    • fadingas
      fadingas09/24/14 04:47 PM
      Actually, this is one Dan's better columns (I'm not a Dan fan by any means)
      Even the APPEARANCE of impropriety in this case is just plain stupid (or arrogant take your pick)
  • rf191
    rf19109/24/14 03:44 PM
    Wait, there's more about Albano. His Springfield political career ground to a halt in 2004 when a corruption investigation headed by the FBI led to the conviction and one year prison sentence of Albano's Chief of Staff and the conviction and two year prison sentence of a close friend and political appointee of Albano. And Albano offered to testify for the defense at Whitey Bulger's trial, "not for Bulger, but against the FBI." The Court excluded the proffered testimony as irrelevant. Was Shaughnessy unaware of these facts when he held Albano up as a credible critic of Mueller, or did he just think nobody would notice? Shameful. And shame on the Globe's editors for not catching him at it.
    • Brooklineliberal
      Brooklineliberal09/24/14 04:05 PM
      This is really good stuff. The image of Shaughnessy with his pants down to his ankles resonates. A fraud calling another fraud a fraud.
    • forechek
      forechek09/24/14 05:11 PM
      Wow, if this is true it is truly damning of the column.
  • iubica
    iubica09/24/14 04:15 PM
    The target is good, but the whole article could have fit into one paragraph. The reference to John Henry has nothing to do with the NFL investigation. And Mike Albano's comments are not enlightening. Andrei Radulescu-Banu, Lexington, MA. (Soccer fan)
  • 78sman3
    78sman309/24/14 04:29 PM
    I often disagree with Dan, but he has made a compelling case. An attorney's job is to put the client's interests in the best possible light. The investigator's job is to be impartial, weigh the facts, and reach a decision that considers the facts and everyone's interests. The investigator is supposed to be judicial. There is a clear conflict of interest if the attorney and the judge are the same person.
  • Omj66
    Omj6609/24/14 04:29 PM
    Football is a stupid sport for even stupider fans. Start watching soccer.
    • 221bbaker
      221bbaker09/24/14 05:57 PM
      Didn't make the cut for your high school team there Sparky?
    • JFFouch
      JFFouch09/25/14 12:58 PM
      Stupider? Yes, you are.
  • Frank101
    Frank10109/24/14 04:36 PM
    Dear Globe, please give it a rest.
    • Ten44
      Ten4409/25/14 09:29 AM
      Dear Globe, dig deeper, ask questions, don't give up.
      Dear Frank101, change the channel, turn the dial, move along as there's nothing for you to see here sir.
  • LeoTheLion4
    LeoTheLion409/24/14 04:47 PM
    As I wrote elsewhere, the best that can be said of Mueller is that he is an able bureaucrat. He is not one to rock the boat or to think outside the box. Nor will he take any action that disturbs the comfort or the consciences of the NFL owners, those people who will be paying his fees and whom he hopes someday to retain as clients, now that he is out of government and hoping to cash in as a big firm lawyer. A company man all the way, Mueller puts one in mind of Sargent Schultz, or, better yet (because he carries about him that thin patina of self-conscious sophistication that St. Paul’s School and Princeton uniquely bestow), of Colonel Klink.

    Mueller will draw upon his law enforcement credentials to produce (and add luster to) a polished, seamless report that, in the final analysis: (i) mollifies the conscience of the few owners who care, (ii) leaves undisturbed Goodell's contention that he knew nothing, (iii) superficially addresses the public's fleeting concerns about the culture of the NFL (we are not called the United States of Amnesia for nothing), (iv) enables NFL life as we know it to proceed undisturbed, and (v) reinvigorates Mueller's personal finances.
    • Lacey9
      Lacey909/25/14 10:07 AM
      Yes, and he better not come up with anything damning against the NFL sufficient to cut off the river of NFL money flowing to his partners and law firm from past and future legal fees or he is gone from that firm. As the article points out there is a glut of capable firms to which the NFL can shift to in the future depending on how "thorough" the "investigation" is.

      See if you can guess where his interests are. And there is no conflict???
    • dbeach48
      dbeach4809/25/14 06:15 PM
      Herr Mueller is just another DC big Whig with a very large broom
  • vladjr
    vladjr09/24/14 04:53 PM
    Hire the National Inquirer, they can do a more thorough investigation than the FBI. And, they never killed anyone during one of their investigations which the FBI does on a regular basis.
    • NotNecessarilyLiberal
      NotNecessarilyLiberal09/24/14 08:26 PM
      I'd have recommended Rolling Stone Magazine, but Tiabbi has moved on.
    • RZwarich
      RZwarich09/25/14 06:49 AM
      Where is Matt Taibbi these days? I haven't seen his byline in awhile. He is one of the best true journalists left in a heavily corrupted profession, as the line between 'journalist' and 'propagandist' becomes ever more indistinct. Taibbi's reports on the mafioso type financial rackets being run by the "vampire squid" Big Money houses, who destroyed tens of millions of people's lives in their naked greed, were some of the most truthful and hard hitting reports that appeared.
  • WFC49
    WFC4909/24/14 05:08 PM
    Is anyone really surprised?? This is the new AmeriKa. Land of the Fee'd , Home of the Naive.
  • forechek
    forechek09/24/14 05:10 PM
    Good god, Dan, this column is a disaster. A member of the governor's council as your expert witness?!! Say what you will about Mueller, his integrity is impeccable.
  • baseballliferbaseballifer
    baseballliferbaseballifer09/24/14 05:20 PM
    And the cover-up continues...
  • lsdad
    lsdad09/24/14 05:43 PM
    "It should be pointed out that Albano vied with Mueller on a parole case in the 1980s when Albano was serving as a member of the Massachusetts Parole Board and Mueller was an assistant United States attorney."

    Yes, it sure should be, because the personal grudge Albano has against Mueller seems to be the only thing at all that connects him to this matter. WTF? Why not get Meuller's ex-wife to say out what a mean guy he is, or get his neighbors to say he kicks his dog?

    Also, why exactly can't a lawyer from a law firm that has performed other work for the NFL conduct this piece of work for the NFL? First of all, it is not even a professional conflict of interest, as one of the Globe's excellent lawyers could advise Mr. Shaughnessy. Besides, even if it was, then if every apparent conflict of interest is grounds to exclude the person in question, if, as he writes, "the conflict is the conflict," then Mr. Shaughnessy may no longer ever write about the Red Sox because of the conflict he acknowledges above. Either he does not believe that that bar applies to him, or he views his own work as sufficiently meaningless that no one should care about the conflict. Or, maybe it just never occurred to either him or his editor how stupid his argument is.

    This is an unfortunate and poorly reasoned piece of work.
    • Ignatz59
      Ignatz5909/24/14 08:24 PM
      Totally disagree, the column is correct about the appearance of a conflict of interest, which is really dumb on the part of the NFL. Someone with absolutely no stake should have been chosen. Someone with absolutely impeccable credentials and no interest whatsoever.

      However, if all the stuff about Albano is true and you didn't check it out Dan, that makes you about a dumb as Godell. Not the best person to quote, don't ya think? Perhaps it is not true, because you would imagine that the Globe's fact checkers would have dug it up.
    • lsdad
      lsdad09/24/14 11:55 PM
      All due respect, Ignatz59, what exactly is the "conflict of interest"?

      Here is the test: to whom or what does Mueller owe any duty that conflicts with his duty to the NFL, his client?


      The NFL has contacted a lawyer from one of its outside firms and asked that lawyer to perform a piece of investigative work. Maybe you think that the lawyer, who by the way happens to be the former head of the FBI, whatever, is going to subordinate his judgment to what he believes to be the whim of his client, so that (I guess) his firm will keep getting work from the NFL. If so, then the NFL is guilty of making a dumb choice, because smart guys like you caught them and their venal lawyer. Not a "conflict of interest," though.

      The NFL is paying for this work to be done. Therefore nobody they hire will have "no interest" as you seem to understand it.

      Finding that other people have "conflicts of interest" where none exist is kind of a specialty of dummies. It makes it sound like the dummy is smart, because he understands a complex matter like a "conflict of interest." The writer has embarrassed himself in this way before.

      Finally, I ask again, how come Dan Shaughnessy can write opinions pieces about the Red Sox, when their owner signs his paychecks? Does he have that much more intelligence, judgment and integrity than Robert Mueller, such that we don't have to worry abut Shaughnessy's "conflict of interest"?

      Just a really stupid piece of writing.
  • NotNecessarilyLiberal
    NotNecessarilyLiberal09/24/14 08:49 PM
    Why does anyone think for a minute that any of the stakeholders want the truth to come out? The truth is inimical to their interests. The owners are clearly committed to the status quo. Goodell and other senior mucky mucks in the NFL want and need a whitewash. Any facts that are established contrary to their narrative would portray them as incompetent or mendacious. These guys are riding the greatest gravy train in the world, they don't want it derailed.

    As to the NFL's estimate of our intelligence. They have hundreds of millions of people rearranging their Sunday, as well as their Monday and Thursday nights. All this to watch 11-12 minutes of relevant action in the three and one half hour broadcast, with the remainder of the time spent on commercials for financial services, beer, luxury cars, and male member hardeners, along with the incessant prattle of fools like Phil Simms. Draw your own conclusions.
    • Ignatz59
      Ignatz5909/25/14 07:56 AM
      Totally agree
  • amirtllr
    amirtllr09/24/14 10:58 PM
    Hey, Dan. Priceless piece. You babble on about conflict of interest, and then your 'expert witness' is someone who has a bone to pick with Goodell. Perhaps your witness by virtue of this has a conflict of interest.

    You must have meant to do this and typed this tongue in cheek. If not, then, well, priceless.
  • Miker6
    Miker609/24/14 11:44 PM
    Hey, Dan. if you don't like the NFL now then why don't you just change the TV channel on Sundays and Monday nights? And ask some other Globe columnist to report on NFL games.
    • RZwarich
      RZwarich09/25/14 07:22 AM
      Miker6, this kind of 'redneck reasoning' is very typical of you. Millions of football fans are very unhappy with the NFL right now. That does not mean that they no longer enjoy watching football. It only means that they want the professional league to be administered in an honest, and more socially responsible, way.

      Here you're making the completely idiotic suggestion that anyone and everyone who is critical and/or unhappy about the manner that Goodell has handled the Ray Rice affair should quit watching football? That just makes no sense at all, cowboy.

      C'mon, man! Try to pull your head out of that dark place. Every time you expose your 'redneck reasoning', as you so often do, you are only embarrassing yourself.
    • Bendogger
      Bendogger09/25/14 08:27 AM
      You're confusing a columnist with a beat writer. Dan writes on all different sports, not just football, and his paid for voicing his opinions. Ben Volin is the beat writer for the Patriots and writes about the nuts and bolts issues.

      As RZ stated, fans aren't happy with Goodell and the business of the NFL but still enjoy the entertainment value of football games.
  • lsalty
    lsalty09/25/14 05:11 AM
    Albano should have been left out of the column. Shaughnessy didn't need him to make his case.
    The real issue is: there are plenty of law firms and lawyers, why this one?
    • rhs777
      rhs77709/25/14 09:29 AM
      In fewer words than most, Isalty hit the nail on the head as to what the real issue and problem is.
  • Entropic
    Entropic09/25/14 05:23 AM
    Dan, you've been on a roll lately. Perhaps you needed a story with real meat - instead of the usual sports BS - to get the fire back in your belly. You are not loved around here, but recent stuff has been thoughtful and interesting. Keep it up.
  • 6x6x6x
    6x6x6x09/25/14 07:01 AM
    This story is the result of a lack of understanding of the real world outside of sports. There is no "conflict of interest"; there is only baseless speculation that because of pre-existing business relationships between the League (or some of the owners) and the firm that Mueller now works for (and not Mueller individually) that Mueller's objectivity will be compromised. To accurately evaluate that possibility, I suggest you wait for his report, and then try to make an informed judgment. And good luck trying to find a lawyer as highly regarded for his personal integrity and investigatory background as Mueller, but whose firm has never had a business contact with the NFL or its owners.
  • PBark
    PBark09/25/14 07:12 AM
    The logical conclusion is (and integrity dictates) that Bozo will not write columns about the Red Sox as long as John Henry has an ownership interest. Or did I miss the point of his rant: my conflict of interest is OK, but yours is damning.
  • Bendogger
    Bendogger09/25/14 08:38 AM
    The "investigation" is a sham being used to buy the NFL more time to figure out how to get out of this. NFL owners are rich, powerful men who aren't going to be told what to do, as in firing Goodell. They'll do it when they're good and ready and on their terms.

    In the end it seems very simple. Goodell either saw the video or he didn't. If I'm an owner assessing Goodell's performance I'd ask him, if you saw the video how could you not think that it would eventually leak to the media causing the mass hysteria that it did or, if you didn't see the video how could you put the league at such risk? An owner is not going to buy Goodell's saying they asked for it but couldn't get it. They get what they want, when they want it.

    The commissioner needlessly put the league at risk, whether he viewed the video or not, and should pay with his job for doing so. The owners are backing him now while they bide their time but I don't see how they can trust Goodell, regardless of the outcome of the "investigation".
  • icepack
    icepack09/25/14 08:56 AM
    The NFL is just not as bright as they think they are, similar to the NCAA........"League of Denial" the documentary concerning the issue of head injuries and their results needs to be shown a few more times. Goodell and crew spent more time trying to discredit respected physicans in the head injury field than telling any truth. In this film the NFL and Goodell, comes out looking a lot worse than Ray Rice, which is hard to do. The arrogance of Goodell and the NFL staff is glaring. The lack of acknowledgement and compassion is telling as well.......I'm just not that interested in the NFL or the Pats any longer. The Krafts and the rest of the owners, Goodell and his lackeys, the Baltimore Ravens (criminals), owner, execs and coaching staff are full of what brown can do for you.
  • Potlemac
    Potlemac09/25/14 09:31 AM
    Apparently some people thank that being a former FBI Director is an attribute!
    LBGII09/25/14 09:52 AM
    I really don't know whether Mueller will do a good job or not but I have a question that has been bugging me since the announcement that he was going to head the investigation was made. Why do they keep referring to him as the Longest Running FBI Director in History. Has no one heard of J. Edgar Hoover? (Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972). Do they ALL read from the same script written by a 22 year old who never took history?
  • thingsaintperfect
    thingsaintperfect09/25/14 11:17 AM
    “The NFL must think people are stupid or foolish. Apparently they are the only law firm in the country. Are you kidding me?’’

    The NFL knows people are stupid and foolish! How else could they sell them all that crap they wear? Too bad our concern for the effectiveness of our congress isn't as popular!
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