- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Lawmakers saved a seat for Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder at a congressional hearing Wednesday when they placed a “Mr. Snyder” nameplate and an empty chair at the witness table. But by the end of the two-and-a-half-hour affair, they made clear that his attendance next time wouldn’t be an option. 

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who is the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the panel will issue a subpoena to Mr. Snyder to testify at a deposition next week.

She made the announcement on a day when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the committee that he holds no authority to remove the embattled billionaire as an owner and can’t discipline Mr. Snyder for not cooperating with the committee. Mr. Goodell, testifying remotely, did say Mr. Snyder could face additional punishment from the league depending on the outcome of ongoing investigations.

The subpoena and Mr. Goodell’s authority were some of the many topics covered in Wednesday’s hearing, which featured a sharp partisan divide and the Democrat-led panel’s assertion that Mr. Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation” during the league’s investigation of the Commanders’ workplace misconduct in an attempt to discredit his accusers. 

Mr. Snyder declined the committee’s invitation to appear this week, objecting to the format and date of the hearing. Mr. Snyder told the committee that he had a prior business-related commitment, while Ms. Maloney said he was at an awards ceremony in France. 

Ms. Maloney said she intended to subpoena Mr. Snyder just after Mr. Goodell said he didn’t hold any “responsibility” over whether the owner appears before Congress.

“Mr. Snyder’s refusal to testify sends a clear signal that he is more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean with the American people,” Ms. Maloney said. “If the NFL is unwilling to hold Mr. Snyder accountable, then I am prepared to do so. … The committee will not be deterred in its investigation to uncover the truth of workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders.” 

To accompany the hearing, the oversight committee released a 29-page memo that found Mr. Snyder hired private investigators to go to the homes of the team’s former cheerleaders and offer them “hush money” to keep them from participating in the league’s investigation. Mr. Snyder and his legal team also created a 100-page “dossier” that identified former employees, their lawyers and journalists to discredit them. 

The panel, which began investigating the Commanders last fall, said Mr. Snyder attempted to shift the blame of the team’s workplace culture on former team president Bruce Allen. More than 40 women said they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while working for the Commanders, and Wednesday’s memo included testimony from former employees who said Mr. Snyder fostered that environment. 

The memo was frequently referred to during Mr. Goodell’s testimony, with the commissioner having to answer questions about the findings. The long-time NFL executive said he ordered Mr. Snyder to stop investigating once the league took over the probe in the late summer of 2020. 

The NFL stepped in after additional allegations of sexual harassment from former employees. According to the oversight committee’s findings, Mr. Snyder’s use of investigators continued until the spring of 2021. 

The NFL issued a $10 million fine to the Commanders in July 2021 for the workplace misconduct, but the league’s handling of that probe came under repeated scrutiny from Democrats in Wednesday’s hearing.

Much of the session focused on Mr. Goodell’s decision to not issue a written report of lead investigator Beth Wilkinson’s findings. Mr. Goodell said the league promised confidentiality to those who participated and said he would continue to honor that agreement. The committee said the NFL’s original agreement contained a provision for Ms. Wilkinson to include a written report until Mr. Goodell ordered a series of oral findings.

But, in testy exchanges, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Jamie Raskin, Democrats from Illinois and Maryland, respectively, pressed the commissioner on why the league didn’t just redact names from the final version — a tactic the NFL used in 2014 when compiling a report about misconduct within the Miami Dolphins organization.

“Congressman, with all due respect, redaction doesn’t always work in my world,” Mr. Goodell said to Mr. Raskin. “I promise you.”

Mr. Goodell largely defended the league’s practices, saying he believed Mr. Snyder had been held accountable. He said the Commanders’ workplace was among the worst he has seen during his 25-plus years in the NFL, though he noted the steps the team has taken to revamp the organization. 

Mr. Goodell said Mr. Snyder has not attended league meetings for more than a year and that, “to the best of my knowledge,” has not been involved in the day-to-day operation of the club — something that a high-ranking source disputed to The Washington Times in March. League officials said Mr. Snyder would voluntarily step away from the day-to-day running of the team for “several months” when announcing Ms. Wilkinson’s findings. 

The commissioner, however, did not rule out additional punishment for Mr. Snyder and the team depending on the findings of the league’s latest investigation of the team. After former employee Tiffani Johnston came forward in February to accuse Mr. Snyder of making an unwanted advance more than 15 years ago, the league hired former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White to investigate the claims. 

The scope of the league’s investigation has since expanded to include the allegations that the team committed financial improprieties, claims unearthed in the oversight committee‘s probe. Mr. Goodell maintained that Ms. White’s findings would come in the form of a written report since the accusations were already made in public. Mr. Snyder has denied the allegations. 

At a heated moment of the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, who played a clip of former play-by-play man Larry Michael in which he was caught making inappropriate remarks about an intern on a hot mic, urged Mr. Goodell to remove Mr. Snyder from the NFL

“I don’t have the authority to remove him, Congresswoman,” Mr. Goodell said. 

According to the league’s bylaws, the league can remove an owner, but the measure — which has never been used — requires 24 of 32 votes from NFL owners. The commissioner also can make a recommendation that an owner be removed.

When former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was accused of sexual misconduct back in 2017, Mr. Richardson voluntarily sold the team.

Mr. Goodell said he didn’t learn until Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation that the Commanders paid a woman a $1.6 million confidential settlement in 2009 after she accused Mr. Snyder of groping and trying to have sex with her at the back of a private flight that April. The NFL’s personal conduct policy at the time required teams to notify the league office of sexual harassment claims, though Mr. Goodell did not acknowledge the team violated the policy.

Across the aisle, Republicans painted Wednesday’s hearing as a political farce — again questioning why the committee was investigating a private company. After opening statements, Rep. Byron Donalds, Florida Republican, noted the empty chair for Mr. Snyder and questioned the purpose of the hearing — causing Ms. Maloney to bang the gavel. 

“You can bang the gavel all you want, but I don’t really care,” Mr. Donalds said. 

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, brought up the First Amendment and asked Mr. Goodell about the NFL banning Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy from games. After a puzzled Mr. Goodell said he didn’t know what Mr. Jordan was referring to, Mr. Jordan pivoted to the Commanders’ decision to issue a $100,000 fine to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for calling the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol a “dust-up.” Mr. Goodell said that was coach Ron Rivera’s decision, adding he respects the Commanders’ coach.

Mr. Goodell’s most contentious exchange with a Republican lawmaker came when Rep. Glenn Grothman, of Wisconsin, criticized the league’s “woke” embrace of social justice.

“Congressman, first off, I make no apologies for fighting racism,” Mr. Goodell said. 

A spokesperson for Mr. Snyder also ripped the committee, arguing the panel’s probe was “predetermined from the beginning.” 

“The committee’s decision to release a ‘report’ and introduce legislation prior to the hearing is proof-positive this was always going to be little more than a politically charged show trial, not about uncovering the truth,” the spokesperson said before the hearing started. “Hopefully, the committee will utilize its resources going forward for more pressing national matters, instead of an issue a football team addressed years ago.”

The team has not issued a statement in response to the news about a subpoena for Mr. Snyder. Because the subpoena would be for a deposition, Mr. Snyder’s testimony — if he complies with the order — would be in a closed-door session. 

Democrats again pushed back against Republicans’ arguments about the committee’s jurisdiction, noting the then-Republican-led panel intervened in USA Gymnastics’ handling of team doctor Larry Nassar’s sex abuse of hundreds of gymnasts and Major League Baseball’s steroid use. Mr. Krishnamoorthi said the committee could “walk and chew gum” at the same time. 

“We’re a living in a time where people feel like they’re above the law,” Mr. Raskin told reporters. “And unfortunately, that sense of impunity and arrogance is a sort of social contagion these days. … Perhaps Dan Snyder was taking his cues from those who think they’re above the representatives of the people in Congress.”

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

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