An empty chair designated for “Mr. Snyder” faced members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Wednesday’s hearing on the Washington Commanders’ hostile workplace culture, and in short order chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) made the symbolism clear, announcing plans to issue a subpoena to compel owner Daniel Snyder to provide sworn testimony next week.
“Rather than show up and take responsibility for his actions, he chose to skip town,” Maloney said during the hearing, noting that Snyder’s yacht was in France, with the owner presumably aboard rather than on Capitol Hill. “That should tell you just how much respect he has for women in the workplace.”
With Snyder absent, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fielded questions for 2½ hours about his understanding of allegations of widespread sexual harassment in the team workplace under Snyder, as well as the league’s response to them. Asked to characterize what he had learned about the Commanders’ environment, Goodell, testifying remotely from New York, affirmed he had not seen a culture “anywhere near” as bad as Washington’s during his four decades in the NFL.
But Goodell stood firm in his refusal to release the findings of a league-sponsored investigation of the Commanders conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson, reiterating that the NFL had promised confidentiality to the 150 former employees who described episodes of sexual harassment and degrading treatment.
Several panel members deemed Goodell’s rationale unsatisfactory.
“That’s bogus,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told Goodell. “The survivors have begged you to release the report.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) later asked Goodell why the names of those who testified but requested anonymity couldn’t be redacted. Raskin noted that was how the NFL handled privacy issues in releasing a 148-page report on harassment in the Miami Dolphins’ organization in 2014.
“Redaction doesn’t always work in my world,” Goodell replied.
Goodell said the NFL had disciplined Snyder appropriately as a result of its investigation, noting the $10 million fine assessed to the team as well as Snyder’s hiatus from running day-to-day affairs. Goodell also lauded the organization’s transformation in the wake of the allegations.
“To be clear,” said Goodell, whose face was projected on oversize screens in the Capitol Hill hearing room, “the workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) asked Goodell whether Snyder or the team had informed the league of a 2009 sexual assault allegation against Snyder that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement with a former employee. The Washington Post reported Tuesday details of an employee’s claim that Snyder sexually assaulted her during a flight on his private plane in April 2009, three months before the team agreed to pay the confidential settlement. In a 2020 court filing, Snyder called the woman’s claims “meritless.”
Goodell said, “I don’t recall him informing [the league] of that, no.”
The hybrid proceedings, with some lawmakers in the hearing room and others taking part remotely, were marked by acrimony, sharp partisan divide and periodic unruliness, with Maloney at one point repeatedly banging her gavel in a futile effort to silence Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who asked repeatedly, “What is the purpose of this hearing?” As Maloney attempted to move on, Donalds said, “You can bang the gavel all you want, but I don’t really care.”
In Maloney’s view, the value of the investigation is twofold: to spotlight one of the nation’s most visible workplaces (Washington’s NFL team) as an example of how its executives should not treat employees and to craft legislation aimed to protect all working Americans from similar abuse.
“For more than two decades, Dan Snyder refused to protect the women who worked for him from the toxic culture he created,” Maloney said in her opening statement. “The NFL has also failed to protect these women. Now I believe it is up to Congress to protect them and millions more like them.”
But to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the panel’s ranking minority-party member, and many of his fellow Republicans, the inquiry represents a waste of taxpayer money and the committee members’ time.
“Let’s hold hearings and conduct oversight of the crises affecting Americans today: 40-year-high inflation, skyrocketing gas prices, out-of-stock baby formula, a raging border crisis, surging fentanyl overdoses and our tanking stock market,” Comer said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) echoed Comer’s comment.
“As we sit here today, families are wondering how to pay for gas, groceries and find formula for their babies,” Foxx said, characterizing the affairs of the Commanders as “the last thing on Americans’ minds.”
Wednesday’s hearing represented the next step in an eight-month investigation spurred by the NFL’s refusal to disclose details of Wilkinson’s findings.
It was preceded by the committee’s release of roughly 700 pages of documents related to its work — depositions, transcribed interviews and a 29-page summary that laid out the manner in which Snyder, via a team of lawyers and private investigators, waged a “shadow investigation” in an effort to discredit his accusers and deflect blame for rampant misconduct in the team’s workplace. Central to that “shadow investigation,” according to the committee’s findings, was the creation of a “dossier” illustrated with 100 slides that targeted former employers, their lawyers and Washington Post journalists whom Snyder perceived as enemies.
The committee also found Snyder directed an effort to locate derogatory information about former team president Bruce Allen that he could use to convince the NFL and Wilkinson that Allen, not Snyder, was responsible for the team’s toxic culture. Snyder fired Allen after 10 years in December 2019.
To that end, lawyers working for Snyder combed through more than 400,000 emails in Allen’s inactive team account, searching for anything “inappropriate,” and then shared that information with the NFL and Wilkinson. He also retained private investigators to visit former cheerleaders’ homes and ask whether they were aware of any “sexual misconduct” involving Allen.
Since the first report of rampant sexual harassment within the team in July 2020, Snyder has portrayed himself as the victim of an orchestrated plot to defame and extort him. He also has said his only failing as an NFL owner is having been “too hands-off,” adding that once he was aware of the problems, he fired all of the bad actors.
Maloney closed the hearing with a message for Snyder.
“We will not be deterred by billionaire owners and political posturing,” she said. “The victims demand answers, and we all demand justice.”
Afterward, committee members said that they would move quickly to secure Snyder’s testimony and that he would face quick punishment if he refuses.
“Thumbing your nose at Congress is not a good strategy,” said Krishnamoorthi, who has helped run the investigation.
Snyder twice refused the committee’s invitation to testify, stating through his lawyer that he had a “long-standing business conflict” overseas Wednesday and had additional concerns about due process and fairness. He indicated that before agreeing to appear before the committee he wanted a guarantee that all questions to him would be restricted to the team’s “historic culture.” He also asked, through his lawyer, for the identities of everyone who spoke to the committee about him or the team and the substance of the interviews.
Speier predicted Snyder will refuse to testify and the House will vote to hold him in contempt of Congress.
“He’s arrogant enough that he’ll probably be held in contempt,” Speier said. “That’s my guess.”
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.