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How independent will Robert Mueller be?

Mueller

When the NFL announced that an independent investigator had been hired to explore the league office’s poor-at-best handling of the Ray Rice case, I thought the league had taken a clear step in the right direction.

When I saw that two old-guard owners would oversee what would otherwise be an independent investigation, I became a little concerned that the investigation wouldn’t truly be independent.

When I realized that the man hired to do the investigation works for WilmerHale, the law firm that helped the NFL recently negotiate a multi-billion-dollar contract with DirecTV, any hope of true and genuine independence evaporated. As explained by ESPN.com, the firm previously has represented Washington owner Daniel Snyder, and several members of the firm have taken jobs with NFL teams.

One such former WilmerHale employee is, coincidentally, Ravens president Dick Cass, who joined the club after thirty-plus years at the firm.

While the tentacles aren’t as numerous as those connecting the league office to a law firm like Covington & Burling, the NFL-WilmerHale linkage suggests that Robert Mueller isn’t and won’t be truly independent. At some level, Mueller possibly will be influenced by his firm’s separate relationship with the NFL. Even if he isn’t, the appearance of a potential influence makes it impossible to fully trust the independence of the investigation.

That’s why the best choice would have been (and still could be) to give former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue a significant role in this process. Who knows the inner workings of the league office better than the man who presided over it for twice as long as Goodell has? Two years ago, Tagliabue displayed his ability to be independent and objective when scuttling Goodell’s suspensions of various players for the bounty case.

If the goal is to not only get to the truth but to create the impression that a truly independent effort has been undertaken to find the truth, Mueller is the wrong choice. Tagliabue ultimately could be the right one.