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The Freeh report, Mr. Maloni said, is a formidable hurdle for Mr. Spanier, who led Penn State for 16 years until his ouster several days after Sandusky was charged with serial child abuse.

“He’s not going to have much luck deflating the Freeh report,” said Mr. Maloni, senior vice president of Levick, a strategic communications firm in Washington. “Louis Freeh’s got a lot of credibility, and he has a strong reputation in this field as a straight shooter. This might be too little too late for Graham Spanier.”

Mr. Freeh’s investigation uncovered documents that suggest Mr. Spanier had deeper knowledge of the Sandusky complaints, including an email in which the president appeared to agree with Athletic Director Tim Curley’s decision to keep the 2001 assault from child-welfare authorities and instead work directly with Sandusky and Sandusky’s charity for at-risk youths.

“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” said Mr. Spanier’s email, dated Feb. 27, 2001. “The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

Mr. Spanier told ABC-TV that he doesn’t remember the memo “but it sounds like me.”

The word “vulnerable,” Mr. Spanier said, “may not have been the best choice of the term” but was “a reaction to the possibility that we didn’t want this to happen, and if he didn’t accept that and understand it, we would be disturbed by it and perhaps need to take further action. But the message we got back was that he heard the message and was agreeable.”

Mr. Spanier’s lawyers said Mr. Freeh took the email out of context.

The report, Mr. Lewis complained, assumes that former graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno in 2001 that he saw something sexual in a locker room shower and that Paterno echoed that to Mr. Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Mr. Freeh likewise assumes that they in turn told Mr. Spanier the same thing.

“Curley and Schultz have denied that they ever told Dr. Spanier anything of the sort,” Mr. Lewis said. “‘Horseplay’ was referred to over and over again, but never with any sexual connotation or suggestion of abuse, but Judge Freeh paid no attention to that.”

Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley are charged with lying to a grand jury and failure to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers released a statement Wednesday agreeing with Mr. Lewis‘ critique of the Freeh report.

Mr. Spanier’s lawyers said they don’t know whether their client will be charged, but “we don’t think there’s a scintilla of evidence to support an indictment,” attorney John E. Riley said.