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Ben Volin | On football

There’s no defense for the Patriots’ Deflategate coverup

Robert Kraft (right) stood by Roger Goodell during tough times, but Deflategate was bigger than their friendship
Robert Kraft (right) stood by Roger Goodell during tough times, but Deflategate was bigger than their friendshipBRANDON WADE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

How many times in the 40 years since Watergate have we heard, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up’’?

This is why the Patriots and Tom Brady got crushed by the NFL office for Deflategate, with Tom Brady earning a four-game suspension and the Patriots losing first- and fourth-round picks and $1 million.

It wasn’t the deflation of the footballs. It was the obstruction of justice from the Patriots, and the presumption from the organization that Robert Kraft, who used to be so close to Roger Goodell he’s dubbed the “assistant commissioner” by certain executives in the NFL office, could sway the system just enough to get the Patriots off.

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Patriots fans are right. Ted Wells’s report on Deflategate is woefully incomplete.

But forget the faulty science or Walt Anderson’s fuzzy memory about pressure gauges.

The report is incomplete for one glaring reason: The Patriots hid the key witness (Jim McNally) and didn’t let Wells do the job the NFL paid him to do.

The Patriots let Wells talk to McNally one time. One.

And Wells said Tuesday during a teleconference with the media the Patriots declined every attempt for Wells to re-interview McNally after Wells discovered the “deflator” texts. Wonder why?

I e-mailed the Patriots at 1:36 p.m. Wednesday for comment on Wells’s accusations that the team and Brady were less than forthcoming. There was no response.

“I said I would go to New Hampshire, I would interview him in the morning, afternoon, night, I didn’t care,” Wells said. “Not only did they say I couldn’t interview him, they said they would not even tell him about my request for an interview.”

Wells called this lack of cooperation “critical and crucial.” No kidding.

Yes, Patriots fans, I know there is a report from Pro Football Talk that McNally offered to answer questions over the phone, and Wells supposedly declined that offer.

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Wells never mentioned that on Tuesday, but let’s assume it’s true. Why would Wells accept that offer? When police want to question a suspect, do they do it over the phone? No, they bring the suspect to the station for face-to-face questioning.

Brady, too, stonewalled Wells and the investigators. Sure, he answered all of their questions. But when it came to revealing his electronic communications, Brady refused.

“I was willing not to take possession of the phone,” Wells said. “You the agent, Mr. [Don] Yee, you can look at the phone. You give me documents that are responsive and I will take your word that you have given me what’s responsive. And they still refused.”

Goodell had to come down hard on the Patriots for this. If they got away with their run around, it would have rendered Goodell’s entire investigative process meaningless. What would stop the next team under investigation from pulling the same stunts?

I understand the rationale in Troy Vincent’s mind pretty clearly. Brady likely got two games for the crime, and two games for not completely cooperating. The Patriots got $500,000 and the fourth-round pick for the crime, and another $500,000 and a first-round pick for the obstruction.

The “assistant commissioner,” meanwhile, may have overestimated how far his relationship with Goodell and his pull inside the league office would take him.

Kraft probably wasn’t wrong to expect Goodell and Wells to look the other way in regard to the lack of cooperation of his team, as Kraft has long been one of the NFL’s most influential owners and one of Goodell’s top allies. Goodell slapping down Kraft is a shocking turn of events.

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Kraft was one of eight owners on the commissioner search committee in 2006 that ended with Goodell getting the job.

“It’s a great sense of continuity,” Kraft said at the time. “Everything he has touched has been a tremendous success.”

Kraft is on many of the NFL’s key committees. He’s one of nine owners on the Finance Committee, one of six on the Los Angeles Committee, one of eight on the Management Council Executive Committee, one of three on the Compensation Committee (which has been responsible for paying Goodell over $300 million over the last seven years) and one of eight on the Broadcast Committee, of which he is the chairman.

It was Kraft who encouraged and set up Goodell’s interview with “CBS This Morning” last fall to discuss the Ray Rice fiasco before the NFL season opener. It was Kraft who, according to a profile this year from GQ, “personally called owners and lobbied them to issue statements backing the commissioner.” It was Kraft who invited Goodell to his house for a party the night before the AFC Championship game.

“It’s also not unusual that I work very closely with ownership, particularly someone like Robert Kraft, who serves on multiple committees,” Goodell said at the Super Bowl. “He works on several important league initiatives. So professionally, I have a relationship with him, and I also admire, respect and think very highly of him on a personal level. So there is no hiding from that standpoint.”

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But Deflategate was bigger than the Goodell-Kraft friendship — or at least the Patriots made it so with their defiance from the beginning. Kraft’s only response in the last week has been to lash out kicking and screaming via press releases. He was fully on board with Wells’s independence and whatever Wells found in the investigation until Wells found things that painted the Patriots in a negative light. Kraft probably thought Goodell would help him clean up the mess, but Goodell, fascinatingly, told Kraft to pound sand this time.

“Since he knows me so well, he knows that I am not going to do anything to compromise the integrity of the league,” Goodell said at the Super Bowl. “I think he has no doubt that I will do the right thing for the NFL.”

Patriots fans seem to think that Goodell has ordered his own death sentence by upsetting one of his closest allies, but the opposite might be true. I personally know of one owner who is pretty tired of the preferential treatment Kraft and his team seem to get. This owner is probably not alone.

Twenty-four of 32 owners would have to approve the removal of Goodell, who is signed through March 2019, and while Goodell may have lost one vote in Kraft, he probably solidified 31 other votes from owners who are pleased to see him treat Kraft and the Patriots fairly.

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“He’s doing a great job, and I’m a supporter of his,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday of Goodell. Jones also noted that one of Goodell’s strengths is “fairness.”

Kraft may not think so anymore. But Goodell now has made clear that “full cooperation” means full cooperation, even for Robert Kraft and the Patriots.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.