NEW ORLEANS – The NFL denies accusations it covered up retractions made by key witnesses in its bounty investigation, or that Commissioner Roger Goodell has placed gag orders on Saints employees and others who could help punished players clear their names.

Lawyer Peter Ginsberg, who represents suspended Saints player Jonathan Vilma, made the accusations when punished players appeared earlier this week for an appeal hearing, a full transcript of which has been obtained by The Associated Press.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says claims of a gag order are “completely untrue,” and that no potential witnesses were instructed by the league to stay away from Monday’s hearing.

The transcript also shows that the NFL Players Association formally asked Goodell to recuse himself from ongoing appeal proceedings, contending that he is incapable of ruling “without the appearance of bias.”

“The commissioner has publicly appeared on television and in other (forums) defending the discipline,” NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said. “We would ask that the commissioner step down, to the extent that these proceedings continue, as the decision maker and that a neutral decision maker be appointed in his place.”

The early portions of the transcript detail a series of verbal jousts that Ginsberg sought to deliver to the commissioner before leaving the appeal hearing early in protest.

In discussing witnesses he has been unable to speak with, Ginsberg told Goodell, “You have made threats to keep them from talking to us. You have refused to have them even participate in today’s proceedings.”

Ginsberg and the NFLPA had asked the NFL to compel several witnesses to appear at the appeal hearing, including Saints head coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, General Manager Mickey Loomis, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.

While the NFL declined to require anyone to attend the hearing, Aiello said the players and their representatives “were free to bring any witnesses of their choosing, including any coaches if they agreed to appear.”

THE RETIRED PLAYERS whose lawsuit against the NFL Players Association was dismissed last month have filed an appeal.

The group, led by Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, filed Thursday with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson rejected their claims that current players and their lawyers had no right to bargain with the NFL about retiree benefits last summer because they weren’t legally a union then.

The retirees contended they were pushed out of negotiations during last year’s lockout to streamline the mediation process despite a court order for their inclusion.

VIKINGS: Percy Harvin was back on the field as the team wrapped up its offseason program, laughing with teammates and participating fully in the last practice of minicamp.

Harvin’s request to be traded, followed by his absence Wednesday afternoon from a mandatory session, was shelved for a while even if it’s unresolved.

Coach Leslie Frazier said he spoke briefly with Harvin but declined to explain exactly why the hard-nosed, multi-skilled, fourth-year player is unhappy. General Manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday the Vikings have no interest in dealing Harvin, who has two seasons left on his rookie contract.

Harvin declined to be interviewed, but tweeted to fans that he’d see them in Mankato, where the Vikings report to training camp July 26.

He wasn’t specific about his promised arrival, but made it sound like he’s not planning to hold out.