Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and members of his legal team conducted a “shadow investigation” and compiled a “dossier” targeting former team employees, their attorneys and journalists in an attempt to discredit his accusers and shift blame following allegations of widespread misconduct in the team’s workplace, according to the findings of the investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Daniel Snyder conducted ‘shadow investigation’ of accusers, panel finds
Moreover, Snyder hired private investigators and lawyers to unearth inappropriate emails and evidence aimed at convincing the NFL and Beth Wilkinson, who was conducting a league-sponsored investigation into sexual harassment in the organization, that longtime team president Bruce Allen was primarily responsible for any workplace issues, the committee’s investigation found.
The findings were detailed in a 29-page memo from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairwoman, to fellow committee members ahead of Wednesday’s Capitol Hill hearing on the Commanders’ workplace.
“This memorandum describes evidence uncovered by the Committee demonstrating that although publicly, the NFL and Commanders touted the hiring of a respected D.C. attorney [Wilkinson] to conduct an internal investigation of the Commanders toxic workplace, privately, Commanders owner Daniel Snyder launched a shadow investigation in an apparent effort to discredit his accusers in the eyes of the NFL and offer up an alternative target for the investigation,” Maloney wrote in her memo. “Bound together by an agreement to pursue a common interest and a joint legal strategy, the NFL and Commanders ultimately buried Ms. Wilkinson’s findings.”
A spokesperson for Snyder did not address the committee’s specific findings but said in a statement that it’s “clear the outcome of the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into the Washington Commanders 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.
Asked for comment on the committee’s findings, an NFL spokesman referred to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s remarks at Wednesday’s hearing.
“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 told the committee. “Moreover, for a prolonged period of time, the Commanders had a woefully deficient HR function, particularly with respect to reporting practices and record-keeping.”
Goodell told the committee the organization has undergone a “substantial transformation” and that “the workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee.”
In the memo released Wednesday morning, Maloney wrote that Snyder’s lawyers “used their shadow investigation to create a 100-slide dossier with emails, text messages, telephone records, and social media posts from journalists, victims, and witnesses who had made credible public accusations of harassment against the Commanders.” The dossier included Washington Post reporters who had detailed sexual harassment allegations within the team’s workplace and attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, according to the committee’s investigation.
Katz said in an interview Wednesday: “What is clear about Daniel Snyder is he is always willing to find someone else to pin misconduct on to deflect from his own conduct. So this was not a surprise. What was a surprise was Roger Goodell’s insistence today that he could not release a report that would allow full transparency and, therefore, full accountability by redacting names. Frankly, that is completely — it’s inane. … The fact that he’s still willing to cover for Daniel Snyder on a day that we now know that he was conducting surveillance of witnesses despite the NFL telling him not to send private investigators is shocking.”
The dossier was produced from “information obtained through abusive litigation tactics and private investigators who targeted victims and witnesses of the Commanders’ toxic work environment,” the committee found. Snyder’s goal, Maloney wrote, “appears to have been to craft an exculpatory narrative to present to the NFL showing that he was not responsible for the Commanders’ toxic work environment but instead was the victim of a coordinated smear campaign.”
The NFL fined the team $10 million last July, based on the findings of Wilkinson’s investigation. The league also announced then that Snyder would surrender control over the franchise’s daily operations to his wife, Tanya, the team’s co-CEO, for an unspecified period. She has represented the team at league meetings since then.
The committee’s investigation found that Snyder and his attorneys sent private investigators to the homes of former team cheerleaders seeking derogatory information about Allen and combed through more than 400,000 emails on Allen’s inactive team account in an effort to convince the NFL that Allen was “responsible for the team’s toxic work culture.”
Through his attorney, Allen declined to comment Wednesday. Snyder fired Allen in December 2019 after a decade as team president.
Attorneys representing Snyder provided Wilkinson’s firm and the NFL with the Allen emails, the committee found. An attorney for Snyder “identified the specific inappropriate Bruce Allen emails in attempting to demonstrate that Bruce Allen had created a toxic environment at the Washington Commanders,” Maloney’s memo says.
Several of those emails subsequently appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, including some in which then-Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden used racist, homophobic and misogynistic language over seven years of correspondence with Allen while Gruden worked for ESPN. Gruden resigned from the Raiders after the emails were revealed.
Tanya Snyder told fellow NFL franchise owners at a league meeting in New York in October that neither she nor her husband was responsible for the leaked emails, multiple people present at that meeting said at the time.
Gruden sued the NFL in November, accusing the league and Goodell of using leaked emails to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career” and pressure him into resigning. The NFL has said that it did not leak Gruden’s emails.
Gruden’s attorney, Adam Hosmer-Henner, said in a statement Wednesday that “the NFL is still resisting actual accountability and is only willing to be selectively transparent … Jon Gruden’s fight matters to many more people than just himself and real accountability won’t exist until the NFL’s misconduct stops being addressed behind closed doors.”
The league now is conducting a second investigation of Snyder and the Commanders that is being overseen by attorney Mary Jo White. Goodell has pledged to release those findings, after he refused to release Wilkinson’s findings and said that Wilkinson delivered only an oral report to the league.
Maloney’s summary of the congressional probe noted that the NFL’s initial agreement with Wilkinson called for her to deliver a written report and make recommendations but that the league later “changed its plan.” Maloney’s memo accuses the team and the NFL of obstructing the investigations of both Wilkinson and the congressional panel.
In addition to Maloney’s memo, the committee also released more than 650 pages of deposition and interview transcripts involving four former team executives. David Pauken, the team’s former chief operating officer, told the committee Snyder played a significant role in setting the organizational tone.
“The culture was how Dan wanted the culture at the time,” Pauken said in a sworn deposition.
According to Pauken’s deposition to the committee, a public relations staff member reported that she was groped by a member of the coaching staff in the fall of 2002. The news was relayed to Pauken, who said he then informed Snyder.
“And I talked to Dan about it, and I knew what we were going to do and — which was nothing,” Pauken told the committee. “And we told the person to just stay away from the coach, we would do our best to keep the coach away from you, but stay away from the coach. Obviously, that is not right. That’s what we did.”
Pauken testified that Snyder’s approach was to typically fire female employees who engaged in consensual relationships with male members of the team or its staff. In one instance, Pauken said a cheerleader was let go for having a sexual relationship with tight end Chris Cooley.
“And unfortunately, this was a situation where the female employee was treated differently than the male,” Pauken said in his deposition. “The female employees were fired, the male employee was — there were no repercussions other than he was restricted from additional sex with the cheerleaders.”
The former executive also recalled in his deposition a trip to Minneapolis he agreed to take with Snyder in 2001 to watch the University of Maryland compete in the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
But once he got on the plane, Pauken, a married father of three at the time, said he was told it would be for “a couple of days.”
“And [Snyder] said, we’ve got girls lined up, and there’s one for you,” Pauken testified. “And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with that, other than to know I was in trouble here and needed to figure out a way out.
“And we get to Minneapolis, we get over to the hotel that we’re staying in. And there are a number of beautiful women in this hotel suite who are physically very affectionate and they — nobody said they were prostitutes. I assumed they were prostitutes. They had flown in from Dallas,” he told the committee. “And so we sat around, had drinks. I did my best to avoid being touched by them. They were very affectionate to Dan and other men who were with us. And when it came time to go to the game, they had tickets that were in a different place than our tickets because Dan’s a public figure; he’s not going to be sitting there next to these women. I also was given tickets not near Dan. …”
Pauken said he left the arena that night, took a cab to the Minneapolis airport and got the last fight back to D.C.
Another former COO for the team, Brian Lafemina, testified that when Snyder was informed of sexual harassment complaints made against former broadcaster Larry Michael, he dismissed the allegations by saying that Michael was a “sweetheart” who “wouldn’t hurt anybody.” Michael later resigned.