Washington football team conducted a “shadow investigation” into accusers of harassment, House panel says

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder commissioned a “shadow investigation” into employees who had spoken out against the team’s “toxic workplace” in a bid to influence the NFL’s review of sexual harassment allegations, according to a statement released Wednesday congress report.

Snyder used the investigation “to target his accusers, shift blame to others and influence the NFL’s own internal review,” House Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., said at a hearing on allegations sexual harassment and workplace misconduct towards the team. “The NFL was aware of his actions but couldn’t 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 holiday resort. That should tell you how much respect he has for women in the workplace,” Maloney said.

A spokesman for Snyder said the committee’s decision to release a report ahead of the hearing “is evidence that this was always going to be little more than a politically charged show trial, not about uncovering the truth.” Hopefully the committee will draw on resources for more pressing national matters rather than an issue a football team raised years ago.”

Image: Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder, co-owner and co-CEO of the Washington Commanders, poses for photos during an event to unveil the NFL football team’s new identity February 2, 2022 in Landover, Maryland.Patrick Semansky / AP file

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared virtually before the committee and defended the league’s handling of the investigation, which concluded last year and resulted in the club being fined over $10 million and numerous reforms have been implemented.

“I realize that the Washington workplace was unprofessional and unacceptable on a number of levels: bullying, widespread disrespect towards colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment and harassment,” Goodell said.

He denied he was doing Snyder’s bid by refusing to release the full findings of the investigation, saying it was solely to protect the anonymity of witnesses in the investigation.

“We have not allowed the commanders, their owners or attorneys to conduct an investigation of the team or make any decisions,” Goodell said.

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

The NFL later took over the team’s investigation and used the same investigator, a former federal prosecutor named Beth Wilkinson. Wilkinson’s 10-month investigation found the team had been managed in a “highly unprofessional” manner and recommended a range of reforms.

Goodell issued a brief synopsis of the report last year, but declined requests from lawmakers to release the full report, citing privacy concerns.

In its Wednesday report, the panel said, “While Ms. Wilkinson conducted an internal investigation into the Commanders on behalf of the NFL, Mr. Snyder conducted his own shadow investigation.”

“Mr. Snyder used an arsenal of tools to gather information about his accusers, which appears to have been used to compile a dossier to discredit them. In addition to using private investigators, Mr. Snyder abused federal subpoena powers to obtain private emails, call logs and communications to uncover the sources of the Washington Post exposés, undermine their credibility and dispute their motives,” it said in the report.

“Mr. Snyder also sought to dissuade his prosecutors from cooperating with the Wilkinson investigation by sending private investigators to their homes or offering them hush money,” the report reads.

The commanders used the information they gathered to put together dossiers that they submitted to the NFL in an attempt to undermine prosecutors and scapegoat then-team president Bruce Allen for the team’s “toxic” environment, the report said.

“The NFL’s decision to allow Mr. Snyder’s attorneys to make presentations before the league to blame Mr. Allen for the team’s toxic culture raises further questions about the NFL’s integrity in handling the Wilkinson investigation on. The NFL has declined to tell the committee how many presentations Mr. Snyder’s attorneys have made at the NFL and Ms. Wilkinson’s law firm,” the report said.

Goodell claimed the inquiry was independent and told lawmakers Wednesday, “The job with commanders today bears no resemblance to the job described to that committee.”

He added that over the past year Snyder “did not attend league or committee meetings and, to the best of my knowledge, was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the commanders.”

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

Snyder has called these allegations “blatant lies.”

“As these new allegations have been publicly brought to the committee, we will share the findings of this investigation upon completion and take additional disciplinary action as appropriate,” Goodell told the panel.

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