Ex-Penn State president goes on the offensive

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Penn State’s disgraced former president is trying to convince the public he had no idea that Jerry Sandusky was a child molester — and that he most certainly did not protect one.

With a network TV appearance, a magazine interview and a news conference held by his lawyers, Graham Spanier portrayed himself Wednesday as the innocent victim of a witch hunt and a rush to judgment by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose university-commissioned report on the sex-abuse scandal prompted the NCAA to hit Penn State with a $60 million fine and other sanctions.

Mr. Freeh, hired by Penn State trustees to conduct an internal probe of the scandal, released a report last month that accused Mr. Spanier, Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and other top university officials of concealing a 2001 abuse allegation against Sandusky to protect the university from bad publicity.

Mr. Spanier told the New Yorker magazine he was stunned by Mr. Freeh’s allegation.

“There’s no logic to it,” Mr. Spanier said. “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.”

In an interview that aired on “Nightline” late Wednesday night, Mr. Spanier told ABC-TV, “Never in my time as president of Penn State did I ever — ever once — receive a report from anyone that suggested that Jerry Sandusky was involved in any child abuse, in any sexual abuse, in any criminal act.”

Mr. Spanier told ABC that he knew only that Sandusky had been seen engaging in “horseplay” in a campus shower with a boy in 2001, and he took that to mean “throwing water around, snapping towels.”

“I wish in hindsight that I would have known more about Jerry Sandusky and his terrible, terrible hidden past so that I could have intervened because it would have been my instinct to do so,” he said.

In a portion of the interview aired Thursday on “Good Morning America,” Mr. Spanier said he asked if there was more to the 2001 report than “horseplay” and was told no.

Sandusky was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys. He awaits sentencing on 45 counts.

Mr. Spanier’s lawyer, Timothy Lewis, excoriated Mr. Freeh as a “biased investigator” who relied on speculation and innuendo to support a preordained conclusion.

At a news conference in Philadelphia, Mr. Lewis — like Mr. Freeh, a former federal judge and prosecutor — complained that Mr. Freeh never interviewed key witnesses, ignored inconvenient facts and manipulated the truth.

He called the report “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.”

The Freeh group said Wednesday that it stands by its work.

Crisis communications expert Jason Maloni said Mr. Spanier and his lawyers may be going on the offensive now because he hopes to resurrect his academic career and wants “to create some sort of reasonable doubt with a potential jury.” Mr. Spanier has not been charged, but the criminal probe remains open.

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