- The Washington Times
Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The NFL significantly undercut Dan Snyder Wednesday, just hours after the Washington Commanders owner announced he had hired an investigative team to look into the sexual misconduct accusations made against him. The NFL said the league, not Mr. Snyder, would be responsible for a new probe into the scandal.

The league’s rebuff of the Washington owner came fast on the heels of Mr. Snyder‘s announcement that he had hired law firm Pallas Global Group LLC to conduct a “thorough and independent investigation” into former cheerleader Tiffani Johnston’s claim that Mr. Snyder made an unwanted sexual advance toward her at a work dinner in 2005 or 2006.

Ms. Johnston told members of Congress last week that Mr. Snyder inappropriately touched her thigh under a table and later tried to coax her into his limo during the event. Mr. Snyder called the accusations “outright lies” in a statement.

Mr. Snyder’s announcement of the probe was met with widespread skepticism, including from Ms. Johnston’s attorneys who said their client would not participate in the “sham” investigation. 

The NFL then stepped in, contradicting Mr. Snyder and the Commanders.

“I do not see any way that a team can do its own investigation of itself,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at his pre-Super Bowl press conference in Los Angeles. 

Mr. Goodell told reporters the league needs to understand “what truly happened” in light of Ms. Johnston coming forward. Ms. Johnston’s allegations were among several new salacious claims made about Mr. Snyder in last week’s roundtable, but Ms. Johnston’s testimony specifically prompted another investigation because she did not participate in the NFL’s first probe. 

An NFL spokesman said it will retain an investigator to look into “determine the facts shortly.” 

Before the NFL’s announcement, the Commanders said their probe would be overseen by former U.S. attorneys Bonnie Jonas and Tiffany Moller of Pallas Global Group. The law firm also retained  Debra Wong Yang, a former California Superior Court judge and Los Angeles Police Department commissioner, to be the probe’s lead investigator.

Adding to the confusion, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP — the firm that employs Ms. Wong Yang — released a statement of its own after the NFL that indicated that Ms. Wong Yang’s investigation still may be going forward.

The team and the firm said Ms. Yang would release her findings to the public.

“Ms. Wong Yang will draw upon her decades of experience in conducting independent, impartial, and thorough investigations of sensitive matters, both in high levels of government service and in private practice,” said Pearl Piatt, a spokesperson for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.  “The engagement has been structured in order to maintain the independence of the inquiry.  Ms. Wong Yang’s team is comprised of veteran investigators, who well understand the importance of gathering and following the facts, wherever they may lead, and welcome hearing from anyone with relevant information.”

This is now the second investigation involving Mr. Snyder over misconduct allegations. In July 2020, he hired attorney Beth Wilkinson after 15 women said they were sexually harassed while working for Washington. The NFL later took over the probe once more women came forward.

Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, however, came under great scrutiny once the league failed to release a full written report. Congress launched its own inquiry into the matter in October, following renewed public outcry. 

In Los Angeles, Mr. Goodell sidestepped a question of whether the NFL would commit to releasing a written report for its new investigation. Rather, he repeated old talking points regarding why the Wilkinson report was never fully produced — telling reporting that the league wanted to protect the anonymity of those who participated in the investigation, a claim that has repeatedly received pushback from those who have come forward publicly. 

Still, Mr. Goodell spent a large portion of his press conference addressing the turmoil involving Mr. Snyder and his team. Notably, Mr. Goodell was asked why the league entered into a legal agreement with the Commanders, formerly the Washington Football Team, shortly after the league took over Ms. Wilkinson’s probe. 

Last week, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee released a document from the NFL that showed the league and the Commanders signed a “common interest agreement” that potentially allowed for Mr. Snyder to block the full findings from becoming public. 

Mr. Snyder said in a statement that he never restricted anything from coming to light, but House Democrats said the document, unearthed as part of the committee’s probe, raised “serious doubts” whether Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation was truly independent.

“It did not interfere with anything that we did with respect to the Washington investigation and the outcome of the Washington investigation,” Mr. Goodell said of the legal document, later adding, “We did not make a deal with Dan Snyder to release or have his approval to release any information. No.” 

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, one of the Democrats leading the House inquiry, raised concerns about whether the NFL could be trusted to adequately examine Ms. Johnston’s claims. She reiterated calls for the league to produce a written report from Ms. Wilkinson’s probe, adding the Oversight and Reform committee would not stop. The committee has given the league until Feb. 14 to produce additional documents. 

Dan Snyder cannot be trusted to lead an investigation into the serious allegations against him that emerged at the Committee’s roundtable,” Ms. Maloney said in a statement, “and the NFL must commit not just to investigate, but to do so with complete transparency.”

In a statement, Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for Ms. Johnston and other former Washington employees, said their clients would be “happy to participate” with the league’s new probe if they receive assurances that it will truly be independent —  and if the league commits to make the findings public. 

Last July, the NFL released only a partial summary of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings. The only punitive action against the franchise was that the league fined Washington $10 million for having what it called a “very toxic” workplace. Mr. Snyder was not suspended, though he voluntarily gave up day-to-day control for several months to his wife, Tanya. Mrs. Snyder was also named co-CEO just prior to the league’s announcement.

Ms. Johnston previously declined to speak with Ms. Wilkinson because she said she feared retaliation from Mr. Snyder, though decided to come forward after the league failed to be transparent over the summer. 

Ms. Banks and Ms. Katz ripped Mr. Snyder’s initial announcement as a “desperate publicity stunt”  — accusing him of trying to “whitewash his own misconduct.” Mr. Snyder’s lawyer, Jordan Siev, fired back, saying it was “notable” Ms. Johnston refused to participate with Ms. Wilkinson. 

“Apparently the NFL also recognized how absurd it was to think Dan Snyder could investigate himself,”  Ms. Banks and Ms. Katz said. “We await communication from the NFL about whether it intends to undertake this investigation independently, and without any common interest agreement with Snyder.”

Mr. Goodell said it was his understanding that the league entered into a common interest agreement with Washington previously as a legal procedure because Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation began months earlier. He did not say whether the parties would again enter into the agreement despite being asked. 

While Mr. Goodell was pressed over Mr. Snyder, he also was repeatedly asked about former Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the league. Mr. Goodell said it was his priority to improve diversity within the league, acknowledging further changes may need to be made to league measures like the Rooney Rule. 

He said he would like to see more minority ownership — specifically the NFL’s first Black owner — and that he’s met with media mogul Byron Allen about Mr. Allen’s interest in purchasing the for-sale Denver Broncos. Mr. Allen is not the only Black businessman who is interested in buying an NFL team, Mr. Goodell said.

Mr. Goodell said the allegations raised by Mr. Flores were “very distributing” — from claims of racism to Mr. Flores’ accusations that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross tried to pay him to tank games. 

As for Mr. Snyder, Mr. Goodell said the league needs to treat Ms. Johnston’s accusation seriously to “preserve the type of culture we want in the NFL.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Ms. Wong Yang‘s first name. 

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

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