Director of Public Information Lisa Powers Begins Testimony on Day Two
Day two of testimony began this morning in the preliminary hearing for the three ousted Penn State administrators charged with failing to report child sexual abuse.
Frequently cited spokeswoman Lisa Powers testified for over an hour this morning. Powers served as Graham Spanier’s speechwriter for seven years before taking over as the director of Public Information, a position she currently holds.
She described her relationship with Spanier as cordial, but noted his tendency to micromanage.
“He was a very demanding employer,” Powers said. “He was into the details. He was open to conversation but generally things would happen the way he wanted them to happen.”
The prosecution questioned Powers about an email she received from Spanier in September 2010 from Jan Murphy, a reporter at the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Murphy asked Spanier if he was aware of an investigation into the criminal activity of Jerry Sandusky. Spanier responded that he had not heard anything and asked the reporter if she could tell him more, and also forwarded the email along to Powers.
Powers said she sent it to a few people in the office to see what they might know. Another public information employee said she had seen something on a muscle building blog about Sandusky “touching boys.” When Powers went to check out the blog for herself, “any comment related to Jerry Sandusky had been taken down during that half hour.”
The Patriot-News reporter never responded to Spanier’s question, and Powers says her internal inquiries into the question never yielded any substantial answers.
When the Patriot-News report came out in March 2011 about a Grand Jury investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, Powers called then university counsel Cynthia Baldwin. Baldwin, who appeared before the Grand Jury with the three administrators, never admitted that fact to Powers.
“In a phone conversation with Cynthia Baldwin she told me that a Grand Jury had convened and they hadn’t found anything,” Powers said. “She said that it was a fishing expedition. She said we have nothing to say and there are no findings yet.”
Spanier finally briefed Powers in more detail on October 28 when the administration became aware that charges were imminent.
“He began by telling me that two senior leaders could be charged with lying and that he knew for a fact that this was wrong and that he knew with certainty that they had handled everything appropriately,” Powers testified. “He indicated that he had never seen the 1998 report and neither had Tim Curley. He said that when he was told about the 2001 incident that it was described to him as horseplay and that no one ever said the words sodomy or rape or child abuse and he felt that this was just people targeting the university. He said he wanted to put his unconditional support behind them.”
Powers, who was responsible for posting the infamous message Spanier crafted in support of Curley and Schultz, said she questioned the President about the decision to support the two administrators.
“We were all in shock and I had previously asked him in the October meeting why (Spanier) would throw his unconditional support behind (Curley and Schultz),” Powers said. “He said, ‘If you were doing your job, and you were doing it correctly, then wouldn’t you want your supervisor to support you?…I didn’t find (the message) to be appropriate and it probably went a little farther than it should.”
“As soon as it went out, all hell broke lose.”
Powers testified that Spanier called her four different times on the night he was fired to include a line in a statement that indicated that he had chosen to resign voluntarily.
“I kept telling (Spanier) that I needed to have permission from (Board of Trustees President) John Surma before posting his version of the release,” Powers said. “He called me four times asking if I had heard from Surma and claimed that he had said it was okay to post, but I never heard from Surma.”
“When he called me the last time I said, ‘Sorry, I was told I no longer work for you.’”
Following Powers’ testimony, Braden Cook, the director of the Attorney General’s forensics unit, was called to authenticate a series of e-mails in 1998. Cook said his office collected 108 items from 60 individuals including computers, cell phones, and other electronic equipment.
The e-mails, brought to light in the Freeh report, outline ambiguous messages between Schultz and Curley, with Spanier carbon copied, discussing the 1998 Sandusky investigation and 2001 Sandusky incident.
One of the e-mails bring into question how much the administrators and Paterno may have known about the 1998 investigation.
“I have touched base with coach,” Curley emailed to Schultz and Spanier on May 5, 1998. There has been widespread speculation about whether “coach” means Paterno – who denied knowing anything about the 1998 investigation – or Sandusky.
The e-mails were not new to anyone well versed in the investigation but important to enter into evidence for the purposes of the hearing.