Specter: Goodell's Spygate explanations don't pass scrutiny

Updated: February 15, 2008, 3:52 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

A day after meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in Washington, Sen. Arlen Specter said he continues to be troubled by a number of issues surrounding the league's handling of Spygate and will continue his investigation.

Specter, R-Pa., told ESPN.com that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., offered support Thursday for his inquiry into the New England Patriots' questionable videotaping practices, saying Leahy is "prepared to have the committee pay for people who travel and investigate." Leahy sat in on a part of Wednesday's session with Goodell and league counsel, Specter said.

[+] EnlargeArlen Specter
AP Photo/Lauren Victoria BurkeSen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls Roger Goodell's reasoning for the destroying of the Spygate evidence "absurd."
"I'm determined to go forward," said Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "You have answers and positions where [Goodell] is saying that with the destruction of tapes that, 'We did the right thing. We're absolutely sure.'

"Well, that is absurd … Goodell says things that don't make sense."

Among the issues that continue to trouble Specter:

•  Goodell's imposition of a penalty -- the loss of a first-round draft pick, a $500,000 fine to Patriots coach Bill Belichick and a $250,000 fine to the team -- before the Pats had turned over evidence, including notes dating to 2002 and six tapes from the 2006 season and 2007 preseason, requested by the league. The Patriots were caught videotaping defensive signals from the sideline in their Sept. 9 season opener against the New York Jets. The commissioner imposed his penalty on Sept. 13, four days before New England provided the tapes and notes.

"Did they know the scope of the wrongdoing before the penalty was imposed?" asked Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney. "The answer is no."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in response Thursday that Goodell's swift punishment stemmed from the fact that the Patriots had been caught at the Jets game and from Belichick's admission that he had been taping signals since he became New England's coach in 2000. Belichick reportedly told Goodell that he thought he was within the rules to tape other team's signals as long as the information wasn't used in the game at hand.

"[Goodell] issued the discipline as quickly as he could to send a strong message to teams that this wouldn't be tolerated and there'd be a severe penalty if you violated the rules," Aiello said. "The discipline included they had to turn over everything they had related to that taping procedure."

Specter heard that explanation from Goodell on Wednesday. On Thursday, Specter said, "The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he [Goodell] says it with a straight face."

•  Specter said it was unsettling to learn that the tapes, as well as notes, turned over by the Patriots in September had been destroyed in Foxborough, Mass., rather than in the league's New York offices. Aiello said that the documents and tapes were destroyed after they were reviewed by NFL officials Jeffrey Pash and Ray Anderson and that the call to destroy the material came from Goodell, saying "There's no further use for it, so he said get rid of it."

Nobody could use those -- they are scrap paper -- except [as] evidence.

-- Sen. Arlen Specter, on the notion Spygate materials were destroyed to avoid a competitive advantage

Specter said the league's suggestion that the material, particularly the notes dating to the 2002 season, was destroyed because it might have afforded a competitive advantage is unbelievable.

"Everything has changed," he said. "Nobody could use those -- they are scrap paper -- except [as] evidence."

With the evidence destroyed, Specter said there is no way to tell what advantage the Patriots might have gained in the illegal taping practice.

•  Specter is particularly concerned about how the taping might have affected New England's games involving teams from his home state in the 2004 postseason.

In a preseason opener in August of that year at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles played in what proved to be a preview of the 2005 Super Bowl, which was won by the Patriots 24-21. And in an Oct. 31 regular-season game in Pittsburgh, the Steelers beat the Patriots 34-20. Those two teams later met in the AFC title game, which New England won 41-27.

Later Thursday, the Steelers released a statement that read: "We consider the tapes of our coaching staff during our games against the New England Patriots to be a nonissue. In our opinion, they had no impact on the results of those games. The Steelers fully support the manner in which commissioner Goodell handled the situation and the discipline that he levied against those who violated league rules. We are confident that the commissioner has taken appropriate action in his investigation of this matter, and will do so again if new information arises which requires further investigation and/or discipline."

•  Specter believes the NFL hasn't gone far enough in its offer of legal protection to former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, who has suggested to ESPN.com that he has potentially embarrassing information about the team's taping practices.

The league has offered to indemnify Walsh against exposure to a lawsuit from the Patriots, but the proposal stipulates that Walsh must tell the truth and return anything he took improperly. Under those conditions, the team still could file suit against Walsh even after he turns over evidence to the Patriots and league.

"Matt Walsh is an important guy, and they have made it so conditional," Specter said. "All they [have] to do is say, 'We're not going to sue you.' It is not a big deal."

Specter said he has spoken with Walsh's attorney three times in the past two days and understands that Walsh is "scared." He said the Judiciary Committee could afford Walsh immunity if Walsh ever were summoned to testify at a Senate hearing. He described both Walsh and Walsh's attorney as "cooperative."

•  Specter said he was concerned to learn from Walsh's attorney that an NFL security representative, Dick Farley, had been investigating Walsh. Specter said: "I confronted them on that, and Goodell says, 'Yeah, he [Farley] works for us. Yeah, he is a security guy, but we didn't know he was investigating him.' "

Aiello said Thursday that it is an overstatement to suggest the league is investigating Walsh.

"The only thing we're doing is looking at public records and trying to verify his employment history in an effort to learn about him," Aiello said.

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.