Much as the Mitchell Report did five years ago, former FBI director Louis Freeh set a new standard for independent investigations with his Penn State probe released Thursday.
The wording was harsh, blame was clear and the recommendations were lengthy in the 267-page report into how Penn State officials had “total and consistent disregard” for the children molested by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. While former Sen. George Mitchell and his team detailed baseball’s steroid era, Freeh’s investigation was more targeted — and those targets, including late Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, took direct hits.
“Mitchell relied on several people with unclean hands, facing the threat of criminal prosecution, who simply pointed fingers and named names,” said former assistant US Attorney Marc Mukasey, a partner at international law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. “Penn State (encouraged) people to cooperate with the Freeh investigation. Compliance with Mitchell’s requests (were) on a voluntary basis.
"In any event, hopefully the Freeh report raises awareness and brings the same change that the Mitchell report seems to have.”
Freeh, who also served as an assistant US attorney and federal judge, was tapped by Penn State’s board of trustees to lead the investigation days after the indictment of Sandusky was unsealed in November. (The report’s release comes less than a month after Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse.) The task force led by Freeh conducted 430 interviews and analyzed 3.5 million digital documents.
“The witnesses interviewed in this investigation, with few exceptions, were cooperative and forthright,” Freeh wrote. “Very few individuals declined to be interviewed.”
That’s in stark contrast to the Mitchell Report, which interviewed only one active player.
The exceptions in the Freeh investigation were former Penn State administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, who have been charged with lying to a grand jury, along with Sandusky and former outside counsel Wendell Courtney. At the request of the state’s attorney general, Freeh’s investigators also did not interview former Penn State director of public safety Thomas Harmon or former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, who said he witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the showers in 2001 and alerted Paterno.
Paterno died before Freeh’s investigators could interview him.
The Mitchell Report didn’t directly lead to any players being charged for the behavior detailed in that investigation. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens was, however, later charged with perjury and obstruction — counts he was found not guilty of last month — after he denied under oath at a congressional hearing that used performance-enhancing drugs. Free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada also pleaded guilty to lying to congressional investigators in 2009 after findings in the Mitchell Report contradicted his denials he used performance-enhancing drugs.
But the Freeh investigation could leave former Penn State president Graham Spanier in legal jeopardy. Spanier told the task force he had never heard from anyone that Sandusky had allegedly abused children. The evidence uncovered by Freeh, however, shows that Spanier had known about Sandusky’s improper conduct as far back as 1998.
If Spanier told the grand jury a similar story, he could face perjury charges, much like Schultz and Curley.
Freeh says his investigators have consistently turned over the evidence they have uncovered to authorities.
“I think there may be more to come,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond (Va.) School of Law. “The case will remain in the public eye, even after this report.”
The final part of the report dealt with recommendations, much like the Mitchell Report detailed what changes should be brought to baseball’s drug policing efforts. There were 119 recommendations made in the Freeh Report, which follow interim recommendations made earlier this year.
The new recommendations include the creation of a university ethics officer, more detailed background checks of employees, more stringent oversight by the board of trustees and better compliance with mandatory reporting laws.
“We want to ensure we are giving the report careful scrutiny and consideration before making any announcements or recommendations,” the Penn State Board of Trustees said in a statement. “We are convening an internal team comprising the Board of Trustees, University administration and our legal counsel to begin analyzing the report and digesting Judge Freeh’s findings.
Major League Baseball eventually adopted nearly all of Mitchell’s recommendations, most recently approving testing for human growth hormone under the new collective bargaining agreement. The only major guideline suggested by Mitchell that has not been put in place is a truly independent testing program.
But the outcry created by the Sandusky scandal could force Penn State officials to act even more decisively.
“The university is going to have to show it is acting in good faith to regain the public’s trust,” Tobias said. “They are going to have to take these guidelines into consideration to prevent something like this from happening again.”