By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008
GLENDALE, Ariz., Feb. 3 -- Even in the final hours before the New England Patriots played the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, "Spygate" wouldn't go away. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he would speak to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as soon as Monday about concerns over the league's handling of the spying scandal involving the Patriots.
Specter, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told ESPN on Sunday that he planned to call Goodell on Monday morning.
"It could go to hearings," Specter said on the network's "Outside the Lines" program. "This is a matter to be considered by the committee. I don't want to make any broad assertions or elevate it beyond what I have a factual basis for doing. We're going to follow the facts and, if warranted, there could be hearings."
Goodell is scheduled to travel to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii but reportedly could change those plans to meet with Specter.
Specter has been critical of Goodell and the league in recent days for destroying videotapes handed over by the Patriots in September after the league found that the team had improperly used videotaping equipment to steal the play signals of the New York Jets' coaches in the opening game of the season at Giants Stadium. Goodell fined Patriots Coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000, and stripped a first-round draft choice in April from the club.
Goodell said Friday that he had ordered the tapes to be destroyed in part because one of the six tapes handed over by the Patriots had been leaked and had been aired on network television. The content of the tapes was consistent with what Patriots officials had told the league about their surveillance program, Goodell said. He said that by destroying the tapes, he would know that any new evidence of videotaping that surfaced would constitute a new infraction.
That explanation has not satisfied Specter.
"I'm saying that there are a lot of suspicious circumstances," Specter told CNN during an appearance Sunday on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "And I'm not prepared to make any accusations. I want to talk to Commissioner Goodell. He has agreed to come in to talk to me. But there are a lot of questions which need to be answered. The integrity of football is very, very important, and it's especially important in the context of the special status which the NFL enjoys from their antitrust exemption. And the reasons given by the commissioner don't hold up."
Specter also told CNN that "there may be a couple of federal statutes involved here. It is a federal offense to steal trade or business secrets. And football is a big business, and these are secrets. And there is also an issue [about a] federal prohibition on destroying records, which may become pertinent."
The senator questioned the comprehensiveness of the NFL's investigation. Specter said the league should have questioned former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, who has suggested to several news organizations that he has pertinent information, and former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in the wake of a report that the Patriots videotaped the Rams' final walk-through before the two teams played in the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2001 season.
NFL officials said they looked into those allegations months ago and found them to have no merit.
"There are no new facts on this," Goodell said Sunday in an interview with Shepard Smith of Fox News. "This is Super Bowl week. This is what usually happens. People take the stage and take an opportunity to spread more rumors. But there are really no facts here. This is very consistent with what we found five months ago. There was no taping of the walk-through between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots."
The Patriots also denied the allegation, which was reported by the Boston Herald. The team issued a written statement that said: "The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams' walk-through on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue."