- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 8, 2022

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder hired private investigators to obstruct the NFL’s investigation into his team and interfere with a congressional probe by intimidating witnesses and blocking the release of documents, according to a report released Thursday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The long-awaited report from the Democratic-led panel — delivered a month before control of the House shifts to Republicans, who have promised to pull the plug on the investigation — concludes that Mr. Snyder “permitted and participated” in the team’s “deeply entrenched toxic work culture” and tried to interfere with probes into accusations of wrongdoing.

The panel said in its 79-page report that Mr. Snyder gave “misleading” testimony in a deposition to Congress and repeatedly evaded basic questions regarding his team’s workplace misconduct.

The panel also sharply criticized the NFL, which the committee said refused to hand over more than 40,000 documents related to Beth Wilkinson’s 2020-2021 investigation into the Commanders’ workplace.

Ms. Wilkinson oversaw the league’s nearly yearlong probe of the Commanders, though a written report of her findings was never released.

“Today’s report reflects the damning findings of the Committee’s year-long investigation and shows how one of the most powerful organizations in America, the NFL, mishandled pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct at the Washington Commanders,” said a statement by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the committee.  

“Our report tells the story of a team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct, a billionaire owner intent on deflecting blame, and an influential organization that chose to cover this up rather than seek accountability and stand up for employees.”

John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, outside counsel for the Commanders, said the report demonstrated that the panel was “not interested in the truth” and the investigators were “only interested in chasing headlines.”

“Today’s report does not advance public knowledge of the Washington Commanders workplace in any way,” Mr. Brownlee and Mr. Nash said. “The team is proud of the progress it has made in recent years in establishing a welcoming and inclusive workplace, and it looks forward to future success, both on and off the field.”

The committee also released transcripts of testimony by Mr. Snyder and Bruce Allen, the former team president whom Mr. Snyder has blamed for the shortcomings in the organization’s workplace culture.  

House Republicans ripped the report by issuing a five-page memo and attaching more than 200 pages of exhibits that they said demonstrated Mr. Allen’s culpability in fostering the team’s toxic workplace. The exhibits contain emails featuring nude and scantily dressed women that were sent from Mr. Allen’s work account.

In his own lengthy deposition before the oversight committee, Mr. Allen — a son of the team’s legendary coach from the 1970s, George Allen — took pointed aim at Mr. Snyder. He told lawmakers that his former boss was “very involved in the entire operation” of the Commanders.  

“From time to time, he would remind me, ‘I want to know everything. Don’t let me find out about it,’” said Mr. Allen, who worked under Mr. Snyder from 2009 until he was fired in December 2019.

The testimony marked just how far the relationship between the two had deteriorated. For almost a decade, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Allen were regularly seen together at games until the franchise’s consistent failures on an off the field strained the partnership.

The two men engaged in a lengthy legal battle after Mr. Allen’s dismissal as Mr. Snyder first sought to withhold severance pay and then tried to subpoena Mr. Allen in a defamation lawsuit against an India-based media company.

Mr. Allen testified that the Commanders hired a private investigator to follow him and that Mr. Snyder once told him he would do the same for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Asked about his use of private investigators, according to the committee’s report, Mr. Snyder admitted to using them but testified that he did not “remember” having conversations with his attorneys about what the investigators were seeking. Mr. Snyder said he was “unaware” whether the law firm he hired sent private investigators to Mr. Allen’s home.

During his deposition, Mr. Snyder denied specific accusations. He denied that he ordered the creation of lewd videos featuring outtakes of cheerleader shoots and denied that he inappropriately touched former marketing manager Tiffani Johnston’s thigh underneath a dinner table at a work dinner in 2006. Ms. Johnston told members of Congress in February that Mr. Snyder made an unwanted advance.

Mr. Snyder also addressed the team’s $1.6 million settlement with a former employee who accused him of sexual assault. He testified that the reported 2009 incident never happened. Mr. Snyder said the team informed the league of the settlement at the time it was made — a contradiction of what Mr. Goodell told members of Congress during his own deposition in June.

The committee’s report said the NFL informed the panel that it learned of the “specific nature” of the accusation in 2020 — more than 10 years later.

Mr. Snyder’s relationship with the NFL came under repeated scrutiny during the panel’s report. The committee wrote that the NFL not only failed to hold Mr. Snyder truly accountable for the team’s workplace misconduct but also “failed to take adequate action” to prevent Mr. Snyder from interfering in Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation.

The report found that even after the NFL told Mr. Snyder to “stop investigating any of these matters,” the league was aware of the owner’s continued use of private investigators as late as September 2021.

Mr. Allen testified that he told Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, in April 2021 that Mr. Snyder sent private detectives to his Arizona home. Months later, an attorney for former Washington employee Brad Baker told the league that his client’s family and friends were contacted by private investigators.

The committee accused the NFL of burying the findings of Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation. Though the league has insisted that no written report could have been made to protect the anonymity of those who participated in the probe, the committee found that Ms. Wilkinson’s law firm provided the league with written briefings on four occasions.

The panel reiterated that the league’s “common interest agreement” — a legal document that allowed the sharing of materials between Washington and the NFL for its Wilkinson investigation — allowed Mr. Snyder to veto the release of documents.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement that the common interest agreement didn’t impede the investigation, which led to a “record-setting fine on the club and its ownership.”

The Commanders were fined $10 million in July 2021, and the league announced that Mr. Snyder was giving up day-to-day control of the franchise for “several months.” The team was also required to cooperate with an independent firm that monitored whether the club implemented a series of recommendations proposed by Ms. Wilkinson’s firm.

“The NFL is committed to ensuring that all employees of the NFL and the 32 clubs work in a professional and supportive environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, or other forms of illegal or unprofessional conduct,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The NFL and the 32 clubs have implemented substantial and effective programs to advance this commitment at all of our facilities.”

Thursday’s findings wrap up a long, sprawling probe from Congress that started in the fall of 2021 amid criticism that the league had failed to release a written report.

The headaches for Mr. Snyder don’t appear to be over.

The Commanders face two lawsuits from the attorney general’s office for the District of Columbia — both centered on accusations of workplace misconduct and accusations of financial improprieties. The latter charge is also being investigated by Virginia’s attorney general and the Justice Department. Last month, the team agreed to pay a $250,000 fine as part of a settlement with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who found that the team improperly withheld security deposits from season ticket holders.

The NFL, meanwhile, continues to oversee a second investigation — led by former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White — into Mr. Snyder and the Commanders, based on accusations uncovered by Congress.

“Despite the comprehensive nature of Congress’s report, important questions still remain about serious allegations raised by witnesses before the Committee,” said Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for more than 40 former Washington employees. “Only after a full and truthful reporting of Ms. White’s findings on these issues will we be closer to true transparency and accountability for the egregious actions that were detailed in today’s report.”

Then there’s the matter of the future of the franchise. The Commanders announced last month that Mr. Snyder has hired an investment bank to explore “potential transactions” that include selling the team.

Any such deal is expected to fetch as much as a record $7 billion, but being forced to sell under pressure would be a blow to Mr. Snyder, who bought the team he rooted for as a child in 1999 for $800 million.

House Republicans said in their memo that the oversight committee had “one goal,” and that was to remove Mr. Snyder from the NFL.

Ms. Maloney said in a statement that the committee’s report should “serve as a wakeup call” to industries across the country that “the time of covering up misconduct of powerful information is over.” She called on her colleagues to pass the two bills she introduced over the summer that stemmed from the committee’s examination of the Commanders.

One bill calls for the ban of nondisclosure agreements being used to limit or prevent an employee’s ability to disclose harassment, discrimination or retaliation to government agencies or Congress. The other measure aims to limit the misuse of employee images.

The bills have yet to advance in the House, which Republicans will take over next month. Ms. Maloney lost her primary race in August.

“The time to throw a flag on this play is long past due,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat, said in a statement. “The NFL allowed Mr. Snyder to choose his own punishment, so Congress must act to protect workers, because the conduct that took place in the Commanders’ organization is not acceptable — not in the NFL, and not in any workplace.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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