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Robert Mueller choice compromises NFL investigation

Robert Mueller is a partner in the law firm WilmerHale, which has ties to the NFL that cannot be ignored.Matt York/AP file photo

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.’’

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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 shaughnessy@globe.com. Follw him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy