WASHINGTON - After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with Matt Walsh Tuesday, the league appeared ready to close the book on "Spygate." However, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who also met with the former Patriots video assistant Tuesday, said yesterday he wants an independent, impartial investigation into the team's illegal taping practices.
"What is necessary is an objective investigation, and this one has not been objective," said Specter.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter stopped short of calling for a congressional investigation during his 35-minute press conference, but hinted at the possibility of hearings.
"If they don't [act], I think it's up to Congress to investigate and take corrective action," said Specter, who said his office has been stonewalled in its attempts to investigate. "It might be hearings. My col leagues will know and have access to all the information I do, but let them decide."
Specter said the chairman of the committee, Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who would have to approve any hearings, had volunteered to authorize committee expenses if Specter wanted to send out investigators, but Specter declined.
The NFL issued a statement yesterday reacting to Specter's declaration: "We respectfully disagree with Senator Specter's characterization of the investigation conducted by our office. We are following up after [Tuesday's] meeting with Matt Walsh."
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team referred all questions to the league.
Specter's call for an independent investigation was clearly designed to pressure the NFL not to bury "Spygate" now that Walsh has come forward with information that Goodell said Tuesday is fundamentally consistent with what caused him to fine the Patriots $250,000, coach Bill Belichick $500,000, and dock the team its 2008 first-round draft choice for the totality of their conduct. The punishment was levied four days after the Patriots were caught filming signals Sept. 9 in their season opener against the Jets.
In advocating for an independent inquiry, Specter cited what he called a conflict of interest for the NFL. He said the league and its owners have a financial incentive to put the scandal behind them because "the core of their game is integrity."
"The league has every reason not to want to say too much," said Specter. "If the public loses confidence in professional football, it will be like wrestling. They're not going to have the gates. They're not going to have the TV. It's going to be a totally different thing."
Specter also said he was troubled by Walsh telling him that Dan Goldberg, whom Walsh identified as a Patriots attorney, was present at his NFL interview and was allowed to ask questions. Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney, said to call such a practice objective "strains credulity."
Besides his call for an independent inquiry, Specter provided more detail on how Walsh claimed the Patriots used the tapes of other teams' signals.
According to Specter, Walsh told him a former Patriots offensive player told Walsh that before a 2000 game against the Buccaneers, the player was called into a meeting with Belichick, then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, and team football research director Ernie Adams. At that meeting, according to Specter, Walsh said it was explained to the player how the team would utilize Tampa Bay signals it had filmed during a preseason game that year.
Walsh was told by the player, whose identity Specter would not divulge, that he memorized Tampa Bay's signals, then watched from the sideline for the Buccaneers' defensive calls. He would decipher the signals and pass them along to Weis, who would relay the information to the quarterback on the field. Specter said the player told Walsh the tape allowed the Patriots to anticipate 75 percent of the play calls.
The Patriots lost that Sept. 3, 2000, game, 21-16.
Specter also said Walsh, who worked for the Patriots from 1997-2003 before being fired, told him he saw Steve Scarnecchia, son of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and the Jets' current video director, filming signals for the Patriots.
Specter's 11-page floor statement referenced games against the Steelers Sept. 9, 2002; the Cowboys Nov. 16, 2003; and the Steelers Sept. 25, 2005 - all Patriot wins - as ones Walsh witnessed Steve Scarnecchia taping. Walsh said he witnessed the taping because he was a season ticket-holder. However, the Sept. 25, 2005, game was played in Pittsburgh, calling into question Walsh's recollection.
Specter also said Walsh told him he was instructed to conceal his filming by saying he was filming tight shots of players or the down markers, and that Walsh was given a generic credential instead of one identifying him as team personnel.
Walsh made similar remarks to HBO last night in an interview that will air tomorrow, the Associated Press reported.
"If it was of little or no importance, I imagine they wouldn't have continued to do it, and probably not taken the chances of going down onto the field in Pittsburgh or shooting from other teams' stadiums the way we did," Walsh said of the Patriots' taping procedures.
Walsh also told HBO he was coached on how to evade NFL rules limiting the number of camera operators per team to two, and that team officials instructed him on ways to avoid detection.
Specter, critical of the NFL's handling of the case from the outset, yesterday remained rankled by Goodell's decision to destroy the six tapes from late in the 2006 regular season and the 2007 preseason and notes dating to 2002 that the Patriots turned over to the league.
Many have questioned Specter's motives for pressuring the NFL. He responded to a question about his link to the cable company
It was not until Specter's Feb. 13 meeting with Goodell that the league publicly confirmed the taping dated to 2000, which Belichick had told the NFL in September.
In his statement, Specter said the league's lack of candor, piecemeal disclosures, changes in position on material matters, and failure to be proactive in seeking out other key witnesses makes an impartial investigation "mandatory."
"I think they owe the public a lot more candor and a lot more credibility," said Specter.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.