Under an agreement signed shortly after the NFL took over the investigation into its Washington team’s workplace, the league and team vowed that neither side would disclose information about the probe without the approval of the other, a document released by members of Congress on Friday shows.
The existence of the agreement, which was obtained by a congressional committee investigating the NFL’s handling of the team’s toxic culture and which was released Friday morning, undermines claims that the NFL’s probe was impartial, the House Democrats who released the documents said.
The agreement “may have been intended to prevent the public release of certain information related to the investigation absent the agreement of both parties,” Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the top Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Friday, “meaning that either the WFT or the NFL could try to bury the findings of the investigation.”
While team owner Daniel Snyder has publicly blamed now-fired executives for the widespread misconduct, some former employees have accused him personally of sexual misconduct — most recently, former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston, who recounted on Capitol Hill on Thursday having to fend off Snyder’s advances during and after a work dinner. Snyder denied Johnston’s claim Thursday, and the league said it would investigate.
The Common Interest Agreement could help explain why Goodell has refused to release any documents related to attorney Beth Wilkinson’s 10-month investigation while undercutting Goodell’s publicly stated rationale for that refusal: that the NFL wanted to protect the privacy of the women who spoke to its investigators.
In their letter, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi questioned the veracity of Goodell’s claims and set a Feb. 14 deadline for submitting “all documents pertinent to the Wilkinson investigation, as well the Wilkinson findings.” If the NFL fails to comply, the House members wrote, they would seek “alternate means” of obtaining the documents.
As chairwoman of the investigative arm of the House of Representatives, Maloney has the power to subpoena documents not willingly provided.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Friday the league would review the letter. “We will continue to cooperate, as we have throughout the investigation,” he said, adding that many of the requested documents are “clearly protected by the attorney-client privilege.”
An attorney for Snyder, Jordan Siev, said in a statement that “neither Mr. Snyder nor the team has ever done anything to block the Committee from receiving any documents it has requested from the NFL that are not expressly protected by attorney-client privilege or attorney work product.” Siev said “all remaining non-privileged emails” would soon be provided to the committee.
In the letter to Goodell, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi wrote that Goodell has claimed that the NFL did not release Wilkinson’s findings to protect the “security, privacy and anonymity” of more than 150 witnesses who spoke to Wilkinson and her team.
“The Committee’s investigation and the NFL’s own legal documents raise serious doubts about this justification,” they wrote. “At a Committee roundtable yesterday, victims of sexual harassment and misconduct at the WFT also dismissed this excuse as unfounded, and urged the NFL to release the investigative findings.”
The committee also released an August 2020 agreement, known as “an engagement letter,” between the Washington franchise and Wilkinson’s law firm, which stated that her firm would “complete a written report of its findings and make recommendations regarding any remedial measures.”
But after taking over the investigation from the team after the emergence of the first allegation against Snyder personally, the House members wrote, Goodell instructed Wilkinson to present him with an oral report rather than a written one — a departure from previous NFL probes.
Upon the conclusion of Wilkinson’s work, the NFL in July 2021 issued a four-page news release announcing that it was fining the team $10 million. It took no action against Snyder personally.
Lisa Banks, an attorney for several former Washington employees, including the six who took part in the roundtable, said the documents exposed the NFL’s investigation as “a fraud,” and she alluded to potential legal responses.
“The NFL and Daniel Snyder joined forces at the beginning of this investigation to pursue a joint legal strategy and declared a common interest in the outcome of the investigation,” Banks said in a telephone interview Friday. “Roger Goodell lied to the hundreds of women and men who came forward and to the public at large about the intentions behind the investigation, its supposed independence and the reasons for not releasing the findings. There must be consequences, and we will be reviewing any and all legal options available to our clients.”
The latest allegations against Snyder were aired on Capitol Hill in a Thursday roundtable hosted by the Oversight Committee, where six former team employees detailed experiences of being sexually harassed, demeaned, degraded and threatened during their tenure. Johnston’s account of fending off Snyder’s advances, which took place at Washington’s Oceanaire restaurant in 2005 or 2006, was corroborated in a letter to the committee from former team executive Jason Friedman, who attended the dinner.
Snyder issued a statement Thursday calling the new allegations raised against him in the roundtable “outright lies.”
Johnston said after Thursday’s event that she had not shared the encounter with Wilkinson, having decided with her husband against participating in the NFL’s probe. But after the NFL refused to disclose the report’s findings and after concluding the league had buried the mistreatment of female employees, she decided to speak on Capitol Hill.
Mark Maske and Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.