The documents have become a central piece of evidence in a grand jury investigation into whether Penn State administrators failed to act when first told of Sandusky's inappropriate relationships with children.
CNN said Friday it had not seen the e-mails but quoted from them extensively, citing two anonymous sources. The Inquirer described a more limited version of the same exchange in stories last month, also based on information from sources familiar with their contents.
Spanier has refused to cooperate with an internal university investigation that uncovered the correspondence earlier this year. He is suing Penn State seeking access to his old e-mails.
In a statement shortly after his dismissal days after Sandusky's arrest last year, Spanier said he was "stunned and outraged" to learn of the allegations.
"I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed," he said.
As described by CNN on Friday, the e-mails sent between Feb. 26 and 28, 2001, were written two weeks after Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant football coach, said he told head coach Joe Paterno and other top officials that he had walked in on Sandusky molesting a boy in a campus locker-room shower.
Last year, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier told a grand jury they were never made aware of the severity of McQueary's allegations. The e-mails suggest that they knew enough to prompt a debate on how to respond.
The excerpts quoted by CNN shed little light on whether the administrators were discussing accusations of child rape or inappropriate "horseplay," as Spanier would later describe in grand jury testimony his understanding of McQueary's allegations.
Throughout the e-mails, the TV network reported, the three never refer to Sandusky by name, instead calling him "the subject" or "the person" and referring to his charitable organization the Second Mile as "the charity" and children as Sandusky's "guests."
In one e-mail dated Feb. 26, 2001, Schultz allegedly laid out a plan that involved "talking to the subject ASAP regarding the future appropriate use of the university facility," "contacting the chair of the charitable organization," and "contacting the Department of Welfare."
But Curley raised concerns in a reply a day later, CNN reported.
"After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps," Curley allegedly wrote. "I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved." The Joe mentioned is believed to be Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky's arrest for his failure to do more about the abuse allegations. He died in January.
Curley purportedly suggested an alternative that did not involve outside authorities. Instead, he allegedly said, the three officials should discuss the allegations with Sandusky, offer to get him professional help, and ban him from bringing children on campus.
Within two hours, Spanier responded, calling Curley's plan "acceptable" but expressing concern over their vulnerability for not notifying child-abuse investigators, CNN reported.
"But that can be assessed down the road," the president purportedly wrote. "The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed."
Schultz agreed with the revised plan in a separate letter, the network said.
Throughout their exchange, Curley also allegedly refers to a "first incident," suggesting that the three officials had some knowledge of a 1998 police investigation into a shower Sandusky took with an 11-year-old boy. Though no charges were filed at the time, the former coach was convicted on counts involving that incident during his trial last month.
Schultz told the grand jury last year he was unaware of that earlier probe.
The e-mail exchange among the three administrators was only recently turned over to prosecutors, after it was discovered by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
Penn State hired Freeh to investigate the university's handling of the Sandusky case and trustees' decision to remove Paterno and Spanier after the former assistant coach's arrest in November. His findings are expected later this month.
Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the abuse and later lying about it in their grand jury testimony.
Spanier faces no charges, but his behavior has come under increasing scrutiny from the grand jury. Penn State officials have begun preparing their board members for the possibility of his arrest on criminal charges, sources close to the investigation said.
Spanier's attorney did not respond to calls for comment Saturday.
"Faced with tough situations, good people try to do their best to make the right decisions," Caroline Roberto and Thomas Farrell, attorneys for Curley and Schultz, said in a statement late Friday. "For Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno, the responsible and 'humane' thing to do was . . . carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague, but troubling allegations."
Wick Sollers, the lawyer for the Paterno family, said in a statement Saturday that it would be inappropriate for the family to comment on the e-mails' contents because the family did not possess them.
"To be clear, the e-mails in question did not originate with Joe Paterno or go to him as he never personally utilized e-mail," Sollers said.
Sandusky, 68, was convicted last month on 45 counts of child sex involving 10 boys he met through the Second Mile, which he founded for underprivileged youth. He remains in the Centre County jail awaiting a sentence expected to send him to prison for the rest of his life.
Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.
This article includes information from the Associated Press.
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