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Washington football team ran 'shadow investigation' of harassment accusers, House panel says

The House Oversight report said the NFL knew about the effort and did nothing to stop it.

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder commissioned a "shadow investigation" into employees who spoke out against the team's "toxic workplace" in a bid to influence the NFL's review of sexual harassment allegations, a congressional report released Wednesday alleged.

Snyder used the probe "to target his accusers, pin the blame on others and influence the NFL’s own internal review," House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said at a hearing on allegations of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct against the team. "The NFL was aware of his actions but failed to stop him," Maloney said.

Snyder was invited to testify before the panel but declined, Maloney said. "Apparently, Mr. Snyder is in France, where he has docked his luxury yacht near a resort town. That should tell you just how much respect he has for women in the workplace," Maloney said. She said she plans to subpoena him to testify in a deposition.

A spokesperson for Snyder said the committee's decision to release a report before the hearing "is proof positive this was always going to be little more than a politically charged show trial, not about uncovering the truth."

"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 spokesperson said.

Image: Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder, owner and co-CEO of the Washington Commanders, poses for photos at an event to unveil the team's new identity in Landover, Md., on Feb. 2.Patrick Semansky / AP file

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared virtually before the committee, defending the league's handling of the investigation, which wrapped up last year and resulted in numerous reforms and over $10 million in fines against the club.

"It is clear to me that the workplace in Washington was unprofessional and unacceptable in numerous respects: bullying, widespread disrespect toward colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment and harassment," Goodell said.

He denied he was doing Snyder's bidding by refusing to release the probe's full findings, saying the league was protecting the anonymity of the witnesses.

"We have not allowed the Commanders, or its ownership or counsel, to direct or make decisions" in any investigation of the team, Goodell said.

The team began an internal review after The Washington Post reported in July 2020 that over a dozen female employees said they'd been sexually harassed by team officials and that their misconduct allegations had been swept under the rug.

The NFL later took over the probe from the team using the same investigator, a former federal prosecutor, Beth Wilkinson. Wilkinson's 10-month investigation found the team had been run in a "highly unprofessional" manner and recommended a series of reforms.

Goodell issued a brief summary of the report last year but declined calls from lawmakers to make the entire report public, citing privacy concerns.

In its report Wednesday, the panel said that "while Ms. Wilkinson was conducting an internal investigation of the Commanders on behalf of the NFL, Mr. Snyder was conducting his own shadow investigation."

"Mr. Snyder deployed an arsenal of tools to gather information about his accusers that were apparently used to build a dossier to discredit them. In addition to deploying private investigators, Mr. Snyder abused the subpoena power of federal courts to obtain private emails, call logs, and communications in an effort to uncover the sources of the Washington Post’s exposés, undermine their credibility, and impugn their motives," the report said.

"Mr. Snyder also endeavored to dissuade his accusers from cooperating with the Wilkinson Investigation by sending private investigators to their homes or offering them hush money," the report said.

The Commanders used the information it gathered to put together dossiers it presented to the NFL to undermine the accusers and make the team's president at the time, Bruce Allen, the fall guy for the team's "toxic" environment, the report alleged.

"The NFL’s decision to allow Mr. Snyder’s lawyers to make presentations to the League to blame Mr. Allen for the team’s toxic culture raises further questions about the integrity of the NFL’s handling of the Wilkinson Investigation. The NFL has refused to tell the Committee how many presentations Mr. Snyder’s lawyers made to the NFL and Ms. Wilkinson’s firm," the report said.

Goodell maintained the investigation was independent and told lawmakers Wednesday, "The workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee."

He added that for the past year, Snyder "has not attended League or committee meetings and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been involved in day-to-day operations at the Commanders."

The NFL announced in February that it had hired former prosecutor Mary Jo White to conduct a new investigation after former cheerleader Tiffani Johnston testified to the committee that Snyder had sexually harassed her.

Snyder has called the allegations "outright lies."

"Because those new allegations were brought to the committee in a public setting, we will share the results of that investigation when it is completed and will take additional disciplinary action if warranted," Goodell told the panel.