Rusty Hardin, the attorney for Deshaun Watson, said Wednesday that the Texans quarterback spoke the FBI in April after the law enforcement agency approached him to investigate whether one of Houston attorney Tony Buzbee's clients attempted to extort the NFL player.
Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct and is being investigated by the Houston Police Department for 10 complaints. He has not been charged with a crime.
“I remain convinced that Deshaun Watson did nothing illegal or improper and I’m confident all investigations will show that," Hardin said during a Wednesday press conference.
The NFL is conducting its own personal conduct policy investigation, led by former Manhattan, N.Y. prosecutor Lisa Friel, but has not spoken to Watson yet. Traditionally, the NFL waits until the legal process is complete before interviewing a player accused of a crime.
Hardin emphasized that the FBI investigation wasn't prompted by his firm.
"They came to us and told us they were investigating a matter as to whether one of Mr. Buzbee's clients had committed extortion in the way they were demanding money from Deshaun or what they would do if he didn't pay them," Hardin said. "We talked to them. We were not the ones who contacted them. They contacted us. We even let them interview Deshaun. If you can find a lawyer who would let the FBI talk to his client if the lawyer thought his client had done anything wrong or had any exposure, then I'll be very, very surprised. We kept that confidential.
"It never occurred to us no matter how much it would have been to our advantage to say that the FBI is investigating Mr. Buzbee's clients' claims. Never occurred to us to go public with that. That would interfere with the FBI's investigation and it wouldn't be appropriate. Until yesterday, I didn't know they were apparently also investigating Mr. Buzbee's allegations. I'm glad they are. I wasn't aware of it, but they wouldn't tell us. They are conducting a private investigation. I'm delighted they are because we want everything to come out. We know that Deshaun has done absolutely nothing wrong."
Hardin added: "I do want to serve notice, if people lie to the FBI, that is a felony. I urge you if they contact you to tell them the truth. We don't want to get in the way of anyone expressing themselves about this."
Hardin was critical of Buzbee for frequently making public statements to the media. No settlement is happening at this time and both lawyers have stated they want to go to court.
"The whole reason there weren't any settlement discussions is because we have insisted from the beginning that we want everything to be public, except private investigations," Hardin said. "I can only conclude that Mr. Buzbee's knowledge of the criminal justice system and the way it works probably if you put it in a thimble, there would be a lot of room left. What he's done here is harmed the clients and harmed investigations that need to be confidential, but when he chooses to go public like this then he better be sure his clients are telling the truth."
"I welcome the investigation to look into all of it. We will continue to cooperate. We have cooperated with the Houston Police Department, the FBI and, down the road, we will with the NFL. We know that Deshaun has done absolutely nothing wrong."
Hardin downplayed the grand jury subpoenas, saying that's a normal legal course of action.
"I urge everybody just take a deep breath," Let it run its course."
The NFL has not placed Watson on the commissioner-exempt list and he remains on the Texans' active roster. Watson, who has issued a standing trade request and has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, isn't practicing with the Texans this week under an agreement with the team. Watson reported to training camp to avoid incurring $50,000 daily fines.
The NFL issued a statement prior to training camp.
"The NFL’s review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active," the league said in an email. "We are working cooperatively with the Houston Police Department and ensuring that the NFL’s inquiry does not interfere with their investigation. As we continue to gather additional information and monitor law enforcement developments, we will make appropriate decisions consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy.
At this time, there are no restrictions on Watson’s participation in club activities."
A source said that the NFL hasn't been given access to speak to many of the plaintiffs in the civil cases or third parties who may have relevant information. And the league hasn't been given access to evidence the police have gathered in their investigation.
Hardin said Watson has yet to speak to NFL investigators.
“The answer is no," Hardin said. "Here's the reason: The NFL regularly tries to not reach out to the defendant and his lawyers until the criminal investigation is over. They want to make sure they don’t interfere with the criminal investigation. Whenever the time is appropriate we will fully cooperate.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.