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In sharp rebuke, NFL plans independent probe of sexual misconduct allegations against Daniel Snyder

Former Washington Commanders team employee Tiffani Johnston testified on Feb. 3 that team owner Dan Snyder harassed her at a team dinner. (Video: The Washington Post)
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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The NFL will independently investigate new allegations of sexual misconduct against Daniel Snyder, a sharp rebuke to the Washington Commanders, who announced earlier Wednesday that they had retained their own group of investigators to probe the recent claims levied by Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager with the team.

“Last week, the League stated that we will review and consider Ms. Johnston’s allegations as we would any others regarding workplace conduct at the Washington Commanders,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. “The League, not the team, will conduct an independent investigation and will be retaining an investigator to determine the facts shortly.”

Hours earlier, the Commanders announced that they appointed two former assistant U.S. attorneys, Bonnie Jonas and Tiffany Moller of Pallas Global Group, to oversee an investigation led by Debra Wong Yang, a former California state judge and current partner at the Los Angeles-based firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

“The Team is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of Ms. Johnston’s allegation, and pledges full cooperation with the investigation,” the Commanders said in its news release.

According to a person familiar with the NFL’s plans, the league was blindsided by the team’s announcement. That person said the NFL intends for there to be only one investigation, which will be run by the league.

“I do not see any way that a team can do its own investigation of itself,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a leaguewide news conference Wednesday. “That’s something that we would do. We would do it with an outside expert that would be able to help us come to the conclusion of what the facts were and what really, truly happened so we can make the right decision from there.”

The league left open the possibility of disciplinary measures, if warranted.

Lisa Banks, one of the attorneys representing Johnston and more than three dozen other former team employees, said that Johnston would not take part in a team-sponsored investigation but if the NFL’s probe is “truly independent, and the NFL commits to make the findings public," her clients will participate.

“Apparently the NFL also recognized how absurd it was to think Dan Snyder could investigate himself,” Banks said in a statement Wednesday. “We await communication from the NFL about whether it intends to undertake this investigation independently, and without any common interest agreement with Snyder.”

On Capitol Hill, ex-Washington NFL employees levy new harassment claims against Daniel Snyder

When asked whether a written report will be released from the latest investigation, Goodell did not directly answer, instead reiterating what he said last year about the Wilkinson report: that the findings were submitted orally and summarized for the public to protect the identities of some people who came forward in the investigation.

In the Commanders’ morning announcement about its investigation led by Yang, it stated that the findings would be released to the public but made no mention of a written report.

This marks the second time the NFL has trumped Snyder’s investigative efforts. The team previously launched an investigation in July 2020, after The Washington Post reported on dozens of women’s experiences of being sexually harassed, demeaned and degraded by team officials. Snyder initially hired high-profile attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate the franchise, but seven weeks later, the NFL took over the investigation.

The new probe stems from allegations that weren’t covered in that initial investigation. At a Feb. 3 congressional roundtable on the franchise’s workplace culture, Johnston described years of sexual harassment from executives and accused Snyder of making unwanted sexual advances during a work dinner, saying the owner put his hand on her thigh and pressed her toward his limo. Snyder later called the allegations “outright lies.”

“The roundtable did bring forward another witness that spoke about her experience with Washington," Goodell said Wednesday. "I think we treat that very seriously, and we need to look into that. We’ll obviously do an investigation. We’ve said that from Day 1, that we will look into this and do an investigation. We need to understand what really, truly happened in those circumstances and treat that in the best and most serious way we can to make sure we preserve the type of culture we want in the NFL.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which staged last week’s congressional roundtable, intends to continue its own probe and has repeatedly asked the NFL to make Wilkinson’s findings public. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee chair, said in a statement that Snyder “cannot be trusted to lead an investigation” and the NFL must investigate the allegations “with transparency.”

“Mr. Snyder and the NFL have demonstrated time and time again that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing,” Maloney said. “Mr. Snyder and the NFL must stop hiding the findings from the Wilkinson investigation, comply with the Oversight Committee’s requests, and commit that new allegations will not be swept under the rug.”

Wilkinson concluded her investigation in July 2021, and the league announced the findings, which were presented to the NFL orally, as opposed to a written report. Snyder had pledged his support publicly to Wilkinson’s initial investigation, but lawyers and private investigators working on his behalf took steps behind-the-scenes that potential witnesses viewed as attempts to interfere with the investigation, The Post reported in December.

In documents that were released by Congress, the NFL and team signed a “common interest agreement” that neither side would disclose information about the investigation without the other’s approval. Goodell said Wednesday that agreement “did not interfere with anything that we did in respect to the Washington investigation and the outcome of the Washington investigation.”

“We did not make a deal with Dan Snyder to have his approval before we released any information, no,” the commissioner said.

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