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Former Penn State President Graham Spanier Makes First Public Comments to The New Yorker

by on August 22, 2012 1:03 PM

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

In his first public interview since being terminated as Penn State's president in November, Graham Spanier spoke to The New Yorker's Jeffery Toobin about the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, his role and Joe Paterno. 

Spanier, who has not been criminally charged for his role in the concealment of Sandusky's rampant child sexual abuse, much of which occurred on Penn State’s campus for more than a decade, will appear on "World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer" where he'll sit down with ABC's Josh Elliott. 

On Wednesday morning, Spanier's legal team held a news conference in Philadelphia. In their attempt to destroy the Freeh report's credibility, they called it biased, full of myth and a rush to judgment.

Spanier said in a letter to the Penn State Board of Trustees and through his attorneys he did not know any of Sandusky's actions were sexual in nature and would never have let such abuse continue, had he known. 

Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz face a Jan. 7 trial on a charge of felony perjury for lying to a grand jury and a summary charge of failure to report. They are seeking a dismissal of all charges. 

Sandusky, 68, awaits sentencing pending the fulfillment of all necessary psychological evaluations. He was convicted on June 22 on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. 

A few excerpts from Toobin include Spanier discussing his relationship with Paterno and debunking stories that have since become legend.

On how often Spanier saw Paterno once he became president of the university:

"Once I became president, I would see Joe Paterno sometimes once or twice a week. Occasionally you'd go a month and you wouldn't see him. It was up and down, but in the course of a year, it would be fifty times ... I would see him regularly, much more than I saw Tom Osborne (the coach at Nebraska), or that you would expect a president to see the head football coach."

Why the two saw each other so often:

"Because Joe Paterno was a citizen of the university and the community. In fact, rarely did we ever meet to talk about football. When I saw Joe Paterno, it was in conjunction with fundraising ... He would show up to give pep talks to the lead fundraisers ... What people didn't understand about Joe Paterno is—this is my take, he never said this to me—the reason he never wanted to retire, and why he kept coaching so long, was not because he wanted to be on the football field coaching. For him, being the head football coach at Penn State gave him a window of visibility and influence and access from which he could do other great things for the university, like helping us raise money, and encouraging us to build new facilities, and helping the university become something beyond what it was when he came in 1950."

It had been widely reported that in 2004, Spanier, Curley, and select board members “twice went to (Paterno’s) house in efforts to get him to retire.” Paterno’s rebuff of the senior leaders was seen by some as a sign that the coach had the upper hand in his relationship with the university president. Spanier’s response, when asked about this:

"That’s become legend, and it’s not the story. Nobody’s ever been able to tell the real story.... As you may know, we’d had some tough seasons in terms of winning and losing. And from the time I became president, every year Joe and the athletic director and I would have our annual reviews, and every year for sixteen years Joe would say, ‘You know, I’m not going to be around here much longer, I’m going to be retiring before long.’ But after he had those losing seasons, I think he began to think, ‘O.K., maybe it’s time.’

"He was clearly starting to think about it. We had a series of meetings — three or four. Those discussions were initiated by Joe Paterno—not by me, not by Tim Curley. At the end of the season, Joe asked to speak to us. He knew that at the meeting would be me, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz ... But Joe asked if we could include in the group Steve Garban.... Joe wanted him there I think because he felt Steve was the voice of history. (Garban was a long-time administrator at Penn State and later chair of the Board of Trustees.)

"Those discussions all took place at the Paterno home, around Joe’s kitchen table. We only ever met at two places. Meetings with Joe always took place in my office except on a few occasions if it was a weekend meeting, we would give him the courtesy of going to his home and meeting at his kitchen table. Sue always had chocolate-chip cookies out for us. And Joe believed, I was the president, he should show me respect, so most of those meetings we had over the years were in my office....

"Joe felt the time was getting closer, and he wanted to talk about the possibilities of retiring. He began to reach out to other coaches around the country to talk. He made calls to people, saying, ‘I’m going to retire soon, would you consider being the next coach at Penn State?’

"Everybody he approached was interested, and there were periods of time when they all thought they were going to succeed Joe Paterno. So that’s just to tell you that he was serious about thinking about it. But after that third or fourth meeting, whichever it was, Joe said, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we can get this back. I think we just need to make a few changes, some of my staff here, I might need to change a person or two, and I’m not ready. I know I can turn this around.’ And we said O.K."

Spanier’s memory of the 1998 incident:

"I have no recollection. I am aware, as I said in my letter to the board of trustees, that I was apparently copied on two e-mails. I didn’t reply to them. The first e-mail that I saw didn’t mention anybody’s name. It simply said something to the effect of “The employee will be interviewed tomorrow,” something like that, no name mentioned. Then, about five weeks later, I think it was, I was copied on another e-mail that said, “The interview has been completed, the investigation has been completed, nothing was found, Jerry felt badly that the kid might have felt badly,” I’m not quoting directly, of course—“And the investigation is closed and the matter is behind us.”"

Spanier had seen the e-mails after the investigation broke, in 2011. His response when asked if he had any independent memory of the 1998 events:

"I have no memory, and I still don’t today. I can’t even swear that I saw those e-mails. Because first of all, back in that era, every so often, maybe once a month, our I.T. folks would say, “All the e-mails today have been lost, if you were expecting any you need to write people and tell them to resend them because the system went down.” Honest to goodness, I had no recollection of 1998, didn’t in 2001, have no recollection now, what I’m telling you I’m only for the sake of not wanting people to think that I’m hiding something. I apparently was copied on those two e-mails, but it obviously didn’t raise any awareness in my mind to the point where I went back and said, Who are we talking about? What’s the issue? Is there a problem with somebody, do we need to push further? I don’t recall any conversations, and it was also obviously not on my radar screen when, in 2001, something popped up again."

Why Spanier felt Curley and Schultz were innocent:

"I don’t know with certainty. But what I did know is what they told me. I can’t imagine today why, on what basis, they would have withheld any information or shaded it differently. I just don’t believe that. You work with people who are in and out of your office every day; you travel with them; you sit with them at a football game, you have hundreds of meals with them ... Penn State isn’t like a lot of other places. The point I want to make about Penn State is, this is a big place, but we’ve always operated as a family. Our personal and social and professional lives were all very intertwined. It’s all wrapped up together, and I would have never had a basis, nor do I now, for doubting them.

"I’m very stunned by Freeh’s conclusion that — I don’t think he used the word “cover-up,” but he uses the word “concealed.” I’m totally stunned by that, because why on earth would we? There’s no logic to it. Why on earth would anybody cover up for a known child predator? Adverse publicity? For heaven’s sake! Every day I had to make some decision that got adverse publicity. Fortunately over my career I mostly got good publicity. That’s changed recently, but we weren’t afraid of adverse publicity."

Earlier at 1:03 p.m.

A scathing rebuttal of the Freeh report and the re-affirmation that former Penn State President Graham Spanier knew nothing about Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse on the campus of the university he was in charge of for more than a decade was delivered by Spanier's legal team at a news conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday. 

Attorneys for Spanier held the news conference to address what they said were many, many errors in the Freeh report. At times, it was former FBI Director Louis Freeh who was subjected to their verbal attack for his alleged lack of a truly independent investigation.

Attorneys said they were not aware of any potential criminal charges against Spanier, nor are they aware of any other ongoing investigations. 

Tim Lewis, a former federal judge, addressed the media and said Spanier has suffered "greatly and undeservedly" since the Sandusky scandal broke and as a victim of the Freeh report's assumptions and conclusions. 

Lewis said it was not an independent investigation that was conducted at all but rather "a flat-out distortion of facts so infused with bias and innuendo that it is, quite simply, unworthy of the confidence that has been placed in it, let alone the reported $6.5 million the university paid for it.

"And Judge Freeh should have known that difference, too. It pains me to say this. Former federal judges are usually a reserved and supportive fraternity. There are so few of us, and we share a unique bond in having been privileged to serve. And I have respected Judge Freeh. I have admired his distinguished service to our nation. My colleagues and I have been in the same trenches he has. Like us, he has devoted a significant part of his career to helping ensure that justice will prevail after a full and complete and honest review of available evidence.

"But he has failed here. There is nothing "full or complete" about the Freeh Report. Nor am I aware of any court in the land that would accept such unsupported and outrageous conclusions as "independent," or any judge who would put his or her name behind them. It is now apparent that Judge Freeh was not an "independent investigator," but a self-anointed accuser who, in his zeal to protect victims of wrongdoing from a monster, recklessly and without justification created victims of his own.

"Among these are a dead man who he knew could not respond; two individuals under indictment who he also knew could not at this point respond; and a former university president who is not only going to respond but who, today, welcomes the opportunity to do so.

"The Freeh Report, as it pertains to Dr. Spanier, is a myth. And that myth, along with the free pass its author has enjoyed thus far, ends today," Lewis said. 

The full critique of the Freeh report is an 18-page document Spanier's legal team released Wednesday. 

Again and again, members of Spanier's legal team said the former university president was not aware Sandusky's actions were "of a sexual nature" and that had he known, Spanier never would have let a child predator roam free on campus.

Spanier wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees in his own defense, which said that he was abused as a child and would never standby and allow that to continue had he known anything or be a party to its concealment. 

Following the news conference's conclusion, it was announced that ABC News will air an exclusive interview with Spanier at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. ABC's Josh Elliott will sit down with Spanier, who will speak publicly for the first time since his contract was terminated by the board in November. 

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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