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NFL hires ex-FBI director Robert Mueller to probe Ray Rice case

Meanwhile, pressure is building on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to call it quits.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice speaks at an NFL football news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., Jan. 24, 2013.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice speaks at an NFL football news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., Jan. 24, 2013.

The National Football League has hired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller to conduct an investigation into the NFL's controversial handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case that has rocked the athletic world and the nation.

The move comes on the heels of a report by the Associated Press, in which a law enforcement official told the news organization that the NFL received videotape in April of the football player’s assault against Janay Palmer, now his wife, at an Atlantic City casino—directly contradicting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s claim that no league officials had seen the footage before Monday.

Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.
Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

In a statement, the NFL said Mueller’s final report on the attack will be made public. The probe will be overseen by New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney. Goodell has promised his full cooperation with the investigation and says Mueller will have access to all the NFL's records.

Mueller, 70, began serving as director of the FBI  in 2001 under George W. Bush just one week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mueller, who received  bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, had threatened to resign in 2004 over the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Bush eventually ordered revisions to accommodate Mueller and other officials' concerns. 

He continued his tenure under President Obama until 2013, after both the commander-in-chief and Congress agreed to extend his 10-year term.

Mueller, a decorated  Vietnam veteran and Princeton University graduate, is currently a partner at the D.C.-based law firm, WilmerHale.

A spokesperson for WilmerHale confirmed Mueller's hire by the NFL and touted the former FBI chief's "extensive experience handling sensitive investigations."

After new video of the assault was released by TMZ on Monday, football fans, women’s rights groups and lawmakers have leveled harsh criticism against the NFL, with many calling on Goodell to resign. Critics argue Goodell – who raked in $44 million last year--  had initially given too soft a punishment to Rice and did not pursue the domestic violence case in a swift enough manner -- and at worse turned a blind eye to it.

Goodell initially suspended Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, for just two games after video surfaced on Feb. 19 showing the athlete dragging his then-fiancée out of an elevator at the Revel hotel-casino. The NFL only announced the football player’s indefinite suspension from the league on Monday, after the second video from the same incident was released. In that video, Rice is clearly seen punching Palmer in the face.

According to the AP, the law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has a 12-second voice mail from an NFL source confirming that the office received the full tape.  In the voicemail a currently unidentified female official expresses thanks and says: “You’re right. It’s terrible.” That woman told the AP that the NFL never followed up on her concerns.

In the last day, pressure has been building on Goodell. The commissioner on Wednesday sent a memo to the NFL’s 32 teams and insisted again that the league did not see the second video until it was publicly released on Monday. He added that starting in February, the NFL asked multiple law enforcement authorities — including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office — for the footage. Goodell admitted the league did not reach out to Revel.

Several lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and 12 Democrats on the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee have demanded answers from Goodell and the NFL. The influential National Organization for Women, has also called on Goodell to resign.

Critics have pointed to other instances in which it says the NFL did not act appropriately on domestic violence issues affecting players while under Goodell’s watch. That includes the commissioner allowing Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers — who faces a felony domestic violence charge stemming from an Aug. 31 incident —  to play in his team’s opening game against the Dallas Cowboys and letting Greg Hardy continue to play for the Carolina Panthers despite being convicted in July of assaulting his former girlfriend. Hardy is appealing the verdict.

Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Panthers broke down in tears on Wednesday night while accepting the Echo Foundation Award Against Violence in Charlotte, N.C. Critics have skewered Richardson’s decision to let Hardy, the Panthers' heralded pass rusher, continue to play.

“Standing before you tonight, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge an issue weighing heavily on our sport and our society," Richardson said while accepting his award.  "When it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple. To those that would suggest we have been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge ... Over the course of our 20 years, we have worked extremely hard to build an organization of integrity and earn the trust of our community. I work hard to continue to earn the trust.”

Goodell was also expected to be at the event but did not attend.