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NFL tells Congress that Commanders are blocking access to documents from workplace probe

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to reporters Wednesday in Inglewood, Calif. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — The NFL told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a letter that the Washington Commanders, not the league, are impeding the committee’s access to many documents related to the investigation of the team’s workplace, another sign of increasing tension between the team and league over the handling of the probe.

The letter — dated Wednesday and sent to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairwoman, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) — reiterates the league’s assertion that “[d]ecisions related to the findings of the investigation have been made by the NFL, not the team.” The NFL also defended its decision to have attorney Beth Wilkinson, who conducted the investigation, submit only oral findings to the league rather than a written report.

The NFL said it entered into a “common interest agreement” with the team to avoid having to restart the investigation after taking over the probe from the team. And as the committee now seeks information related to Wilkinson’s investigation, the league wrote that the team is responsible for blocking access to more than 100,000 documents.

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The NFL sought approximately 109,000 team documents related to the investigation that were previously shared with Wilkinson’s firm, Wilkinson Stekloff, and are in the possession of a third-party vendor, the league’s attorneys wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

“That vendor refused to provide the NFL or even Wilkinson Stekloff with access to the documents unless the team consented because of its concern that it could be sued by the team or its owner," the attorneys wrote. "The NFL promptly directed the team to provide its consent to the vendor, but the team repeatedly has refused to do so.”

The team denied the allegation.

"The Commanders have never prevented the NFL from obtaining any non-privileged documents and will not do so in the future,” Jordan Siev, an attorney for team owner Daniel Snyder, said in a statement Thursday.

The NFL wrote in the letter that “the team has insisted that it will only authorize the vendor to release those documents to the team, so that the team’s counsel can review the documents for privilege first . . . before deciding unilaterally which documents it will provide to the NFL for production to the Committee.” The league told the committee that it viewed this proposed approach as “unacceptable” because it “would prevent the NFL from ensuring that it can produce all responsive, non-privileged documents to the Committee and would delay our production decisions.”

The team made a revised proposal Monday, the NFL wrote to the committee, that involved “assurances to them that their release of the documents would not result in any waiver of privilege by them.” The league will seek clarification from the team on that new proposal, the NFL’s attorneys wrote, and is willing to agree to either of the team’s proposed approaches if the committee wishes.

“At the same time, the NFL has devoted considerable resources to obtaining, reviewing, and producing approximately 80,000 pages of documents to date, and the NFL is continuing to review and produce documents to the Committee, in addition to having answered numerous questions both orally and in writing,” the league wrote. “In no way is the NFL obstructing or seeking to obstruct the Committee’s investigation, and valid assertions of applicable privileges by the NFL should not be characterized as doing anything of the sort.”

The league wrote that the team has asserted privilege over 92 documents related to the investigation, after telling the committee in a Jan. 28 letter that it had asserted privilege over only four documents.

A spokesperson for the committee acknowledged that the committee received the NFL’s letter but said in a statement that the league and team “clearly entered into an agreement to pursue a ‘joint legal strategy’ regarding the Wilkinson investigation.”

The committee spokesperson added, “While the NFL and the Commanders continue to point fingers at each other, the fact remains that the NFL still has not turned over the findings of the Wilkinson investigation or the underlying documents to the Committee. Until the NFL holds Mr. Snyder accountable and stops hiding the truth about the outrageous workplace conduct under his watch, the League’s claims about transparency and accountability will continue to ring hollow.”

The continued exchanges among the NFL, the team and the committee come as the league prepares to investigate a new allegation of sexual misconduct made against Snyder. The accusation, denied by Snyder, was made by Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager with the team, during a congressional roundtable last week.

The Commanders initially announced Wednesday that they would investigate the allegations. Later Wednesday, the NFL said the league, not the team, would conduct the investigation. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at his annual news conference during Super Bowl week that it would not have been proper for the team to investigate itself. The league has said further disciplinary measures are possible.

The existence of the common interest agreement between the league and team was publicly revealed last week by the committee, which suggested that the agreement may have prevented the NFL from releasing the results of the investigation without the team’s consent.

“The purpose and effect of the common interest agreement was to facilitate the NFL’s oversight of the investigation, absolutely not to constrain it,” the league wrote in Wednesday’s letter to the committee. “Decisions related to the findings of the investigation have been made by the NFL, not the team, and any suggestion that the common interest agreement prohibited the release of the investigation’s findings without the team’s consent is categorically false.”

The NFL wrote that when it took over Wilkinson’s investigation from the team, it believed the common interest agreement was necessary to avoid having to “restart the investigation with a new law firm and a new lead investigator.” That would have “resulted in a substantial delay,” the league wrote, and “would also have necessitated attempting to re-interview more than two dozen witnesses,” some of whom might not have cooperated.

The increasing tensions between the league and the team are apparent in the NFL’s letter to the committee. The league writes that it is seeking to “correct certain factual claims” made in a previous letter by the committee “based in part on claims made to the Committee by the team.” The NFL says it did not withdraw from the common interest agreement, “[c]ontrary to statements made to the Committee by the team’s counsel.”

The NFL also defended to the committee the lack of a written report being submitted to the league by Wilkinson.

“It is simply not correct to suggest that submission of a written report is either necessary or the universal practice of other companies or the NFL,” the league wrote. “The NFL concluded that an oral report was appropriate, given the sensitivity of the subject matter and confidentiality promises to those who participated in the investigation.”

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