Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder successfully avoided the fate of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who fielded 2½ hours of questions during a congressional hearing Wednesday, simply by refusing to take part.
In snubbing House panel, Daniel Snyder may have increased his legal peril
Snyder soon is expected to be served with a subpoena to give a sworn deposition to the committee next week as Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the committee, announced.
Congressional committee depositions are conducted privately, with lawyers for both parties of the committee present, as well as the person being deposed and their lawyer. The interview is transcribed in full; it may be videotaped, as well. It’s up to the committee to decide whether to make the transcript and/or videotape public.
Given the committee’s release this week of more than 700 pages of documents related to its probe, including full transcripts of the sworn depositions of former Commanders executives Brian Lafemina and Dave Pauken, it appears certain the panel would air Snyder’s deposition, as well.
Short of complying, Snyder has few remaining evasive moves.
Like all Americans, Snyder has the constitutional right to assert his Fifth Amendment protection in refusing to answer questions, citing his right not to incriminate himself. But that privilege isn’t available just because someone might object to the potential questions, according to David Rapallo, a Georgetown professor of law and former staff director of the House Oversight Committee.
“If he wants to take the Fifth, he has every right to do that, although he hasn’t indicated that he plans to do so,” Rapallo said Thursday. “Others have done that.”
Snyder also could try to negotiate specifics of the deposition, such as the timing.
Lawmakers generally try to accommodate reasonable requests, Rapallo said. But in this case, having refused twice to appear voluntarily, Snyder may have run out of reasons.
The first reason cited by his lawyer — that he had a conflict with the hearing’s June 22 date — has been addressed now that Maloney has given notice that his deposition will be next week.
The other reason cited by Snyder’s lawyer — that he wanted advance copies of the documents on which the questioning would be based — also appears moot now that the committee has posted the documents on its website. Moreover, Snyder may have run out of goodwill from the panel’s Democratic leaders who want to question him about his role in both a long history of workplace complaints and, more recently, in trying to obstruct the NFL’s probe through what the committee called a “shadow investigation” to intimidate and silence former employees.
Maloney indicated as much in announcing plans to issue the subpoena, saying it was clear that Snyder was “more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean to the American public.”
Maloney took that step after asking Goodell what the NFL intended to do to hold Snyder accountable for refusing to testify before Congress.
“Madame Chairwoman, I do not have any responsibility for whether he appears before Congress,” Goodell said. “That is not my choice. That is his choice.”
Asked afterward about Snyder’s refusal to appear, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said: “We’re living in a time where there are people who feel like they’re above the law. Unfortunately, that sense of impunity and arrogance is a bit of a social contagion these days.”
Raskin noted that the vast majority of people summoned to appear before the Jan. 6 select committee, on which he also serves, have come forward and cooperated, though roughly a dozen have not.
“Perhaps Dan Snyder was taking his cues from those who think they are somehow above the representatives of the people in Congress,” Raskin said.
Said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.): “Thumbing your nose at Congress is not a good strategy.”
In Rapallo’s view, if Snyder flatly refuses to comply with Maloney’s subpoena, it “would be a pretty grave step.”
The committee then would have a few options.
Congress can hold him in contempt. The committee also could broaden its scope and call other people around Snyder for depositions and hearing: his aides, deputies and others who may have information, Rapallo said.
“It is a tactical question, but if he had taken the hearing, he would have testified for a couple of hours,” Rapallo said. “Now he’s facing a deposition, which typically lasts much longer, is conducted by committee counsels, and is going to be under subpoena. And even then, it’s certainly possible the committee could call him for a hearing after the deposition. So, for witnesses who face this type of circumstance, they often conclude it’s in their best interests to cooperate and go to the hearing.”
It is not believed that any NFL rules specifically would require Snyder to comply with a congressional subpoena or sanction him for noncompliance. The NFL declined to comment Thursday beyond Goodell’s response to Maloney’s questioning on the issue during the hearing.
A spokesman for the Commanders’ ownership did not respond to a request to comment Thursday.
Finally, Snyder simply could stall by prolonging negotiations and challenging any subsequent court order in an effort to run out the clock until November’s midterm elections, in the hope that Republicans gain control of the House.
If that happens, Maloney would be replaced as chair of the House Oversight Committee, probably by James Comer (R-Ky.), who consistently has derided the investigation into the Commanders’ workplace as a waste of lawmakers’ time and taxpayers’ money.
“Come January, if Republicans take back the House, Oversight Republicans have no intention of continuing an investigation into the Washington Commanders and will return the Committee to its primary mission of rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government,” Austin Hacker, a spokesman for committee Republicans, said Thursday.
Paul Kane and Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.