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Congressional Republicans, Democrats spar over Commanders allegations

A congressional committee has been investigating the NFL's handling of sexual harassment accusations in the Commanders' workplace and allegations of financial improprieties by the team. (Julia Nikhinson for The Washington Post)
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The ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform questioned the motives and findings of the committee’s Democratic-led investigation into alleged financial improprieties by the Washington Commanders and their owner, Daniel Snyder, in a letter Thursday.

The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), responded by saying the committee will continue its investigation into the team’s workplace.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) wrote in a two-page letter to Maloney that the investigation was “reckless,” adding that former Commanders executive Jason Friedman should be allowed to amend his allegations against the team or referred to the Department of Justice for an investigation into the veracity of his statements to Congress.

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“Your reckless, ends-oriented investigation is an embarrassment to our Committee and a misuse of congressional oversight authority,” Comer wrote. “It is yet another example of Democrats exceeding the bounds of what is permissible for Congress to investigate. … Even if this investigation was conducted with balanced and proper fact finding, which it has not been, there is no recourse in the Oversight Committee for any of the allegedly aggrieved parties. This investigation is wasting valuable taxpayer resources — especially at a time when the American people are struggling with increasing inflation.”

Republicans have consistently questioned the committee’s investigation into the NFL’s handling of sexual harassment accusations in the team’s workplace and allegations of financial improprieties by the team.

“I am surprised that the Ranking Member believes that protecting workers from toxic workplaces is not a subject worthy of the Committee’s attention, especially after both Democratic and Republican Members condemned the ‘abhorrent behavior’ revealed by the Committee’s investigation and called for more transparency,” Maloney said in a statement Thursday.

“While the Ranking Member may believe we should have ignored troubling evidence of potential financial misconduct obtained during this investigation, I decided the more responsible course was to refer this to the Federal Trade Commission, which can now determine whether further actions are warranted. The Committee’s investigation into the team’s toxic workplace culture and the NFL’s handling of that matter will continue so we can ensure that employers are held accountable for their conduct and American workers are safe from harassment, discrimination, and other workplace misconduct.”

Maloney and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, wrote a 20-page letter last week to the FTC. That letter said the Commanders and Snyder “may have engaged in a troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct” that allegedly involved withholding as much as $5 million in refundable deposits from season ticket holders and hiding money that was supposed to be shared among NFL owners.

The Democrats’ letter detailed allegations made by Friedman, a former vice president of sales and customer service who worked for the team for 24 years. The letter said Friedman told committee members the team maintained “two sets of books,” including one set of financial records used to underreport certain ticket revenue to the NFL. The letter cited documentation that the team’s financial improprieties may have extended to tickets registered in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s name.

It referenced evidence it said indicated the revenue gained by the team through such practices was known internally as “juice.” It detailed allegations that the Commanders improperly attributed such revenue to being derived from a Navy-Notre Dame college football game at FedEx Field or a Kenny Chesney concert so that it wouldn’t be part of the NFL’s revenue-sharing pool.

The Commanders denied the allegations in an 18-page letter Monday from attorney Jordan Siev to the FTC. The team’s letter called the accusations “baseless” and said “no investigation is warranted.” It was accompanied by declarations from four former team executives — attorney David Donovan, chief operating officer Mitch Gershman, director of finance Paul Szczenski and senior vice president Michael Dillow — along with documents and text exchanges to dispute Friedman’s claims.

Comer cited the team’s letter to the FTC in his letter Thursday.

“In light of the counter story provided in the Team’s FTC letter, we request that you evaluate whether Mr. Friedman should be: 1) offered the opportunity to amend his prior statement or 2) referred to the Department of Justice for investigation into the veracity of his statements to Congress,” Comer wrote to Maloney.

Friedman’s attorney, Lisa Banks, reiterated Thursday that he stands by his statements to the committee.

“Again, Mr. Friedman stands by his testimony to Congress, which was based on the actions he himself took on behalf of the team, and which was supported by contemporaneous documentation,” Banks said in a statement. “In response, he has been attacked personally and professionally by the team and now by a member of Congress. Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman remains contractually unable to defend himself publicly, but stands ready and able to answer any questions that the government, including Representative Comer, might have about his experiences or actions on behalf of the Washington Commanders.”