Before Russia investigation, Mueller oversaw probe into NFL's handling of Rice case

Former FBI director Robert Mueller was named by the Justice Department on Wednesday to be a special counsel overseeing the investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as potential ties to President Trump's associates.

But Mueller's name is already well known in the world of sports after he was hired by the NFL to look into the league's handling of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

In February of 2014, Rice running back and his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer (now Rice), were involved in a fight on an elevator at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. A video surfaced of Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator as she appeared to be unconscious. Rice was accepted into a pretrial intervention program, and an aggravated assault charge against him was later dropped. In July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games.

In September, a video from inside the elevator was released by TMZ Sports, showing Rice punch Palmer. Shortly afterward, Rice was cut by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That same month, the Associated Press reported that an unnamed law enforcement official claimed he had sent the NFL a video of Rice punching Palmer and played a voicemail message from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video had arrived. But the NFL said it had "no knowledge" that anyone in its offices had received such a copy in April as claimed.

On the same day as Goodell's response, Mueller was hired to lead the investigation into the league's handling of the case.

Mueller was a partner at WilmerHale, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm with deep ties to the NFL and sports world. Another partner, David Donovan, spent 20 years at the law firm before joining the Washington Redskins, where he was general counsel and chief operating officer. From 1997 to 2004, former Cleveland Browns president Alec Scheiner was at WilmerHale, where he advised on various sports transactions, worked for current Ravens president Dick Cass and did work for the Dallas Cowboys.

Mueller, who led the FBI from 2001-13, took almost four months from the announcement of his appointment to release his findings. He interviewed Goodell and more than 200 other people.

On Jan. 8, 2015, Mueller released a report saying that his investigation "found no proof anyone at the league office received or viewed a video of Rice punching out his then-fiancée at an Atlantic City Casino until the footage became public."

The report said Mueller and his team analyzed 51 computers, 42 tablet and mobile devices and two external storage devices, including those of Goodell, senior vice president of security Jeffrey Miller, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and senior vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch. The investigation "imaged" the devices to determine whether the original file of the in-elevator video ever reached the league offices before it was publicly released, but found no evidence of that.

"We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown," Mueller said in a media release. "We also found no evidence that a woman at the NFL acknowledged receipt of that video in a voicemail message on April 9, 2014.

"We concluded there was substantial information about the incident — even without the in-elevator video — indicating the need for a more thorough investigation. The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the February 15 incident."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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