The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Daniel Snyder ramps up effort to shift blame to former ally Bruce Allen

Daniel Snyder, left, and Bruce Allen on the sideline before a game at FedEx Field. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Daniel Snyder’s embrace of Bruce Allen was total in December 2009. In announcing Allen’s hiring as general manager of Washington’s NFL franchise, Snyder hailed him as a seasoned front-office executive and a “proven winner.”

After a decade of declining attendance and only three winning seasons, Snyder’s rejection of Allen was similarly total. He fired Allen as team president in December 2019.

But Snyder didn’t stop there. Three months later, he tried to cut Allen’s guaranteed severance pay in half. More than a year later, when Snyder’s ownership appeared threatened by an NFL-sponsored investigation into reports of widespread workplace sexual harassment, Snyder and his attorneys sought evidence that would portray Allen as the architect of the toxic behavior, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform concluded in a report in June that characterized the actions as an “effort to scapegoat his former team president.”

And this week, with support among fellow NFL team owners appearing to shift away from him, Snyder publicly broadcast those allegations in a nine-page letter from his lawyers — and signed by former Republican congressman Tom Davis from Virginia — to the chairwoman of the committee that is nearing completion of its year-long investigation into the team.

NFL owners’ attitudes harden toward Commanders’ Daniel Snyder

In his letter to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Davis denied the committee’s conclusion that Snyder had conducted a “shadow investigation” to shift blame for the team’s workplace issues to Allen, calling the characterization a “false narrative.” But he also acknowledged the efforts “of Mr. Snyder and the Team to uncover evidence of unlawful conduct directed against him and his family” as “proper and separate from the NFL’s workplace investigation.” Davis further wrote that the NFL “was contemporaneously aware of those efforts.”

Moreover, Davis wrote, the team’s findings concluded that the ringleader of the bad behavior in the team’s workplace was Allen.

“The fraternity-house culture that Mr. Allen instilled in the Commanders organization is the principal reason that the Commanders came under investigation in the first place,” Davis wrote, noting that the team’s “single most significant step” in remedying its toxic workplace “was to rid itself of Mr. Allen.”

Allen declined to comment on the letter this past week.

Bruce Allen testifies for 10 hours in congressional Washington NFL probe

Central to Snyder’s effort to blame Allen was a batch of misogynist and derogatory emails found in Allen’s dormant team email account. The emails have nothing to do with Snyder. But that was the point, Snyder’s lawyers argued in closed-door presentations to both attorney Beth Wilkinson, the NFL’s lead investigator, and league officials in 2021: The mere existence of the crude and offensive emails in Allen’s inbox was proof that Allen, not Snyder, was the bad actor.

But the committee found that it was Snyder’s lawyers who identified and shared the offensive emails from among 400,000 in Allen’s account with Wilkinson, highlighting specific inappropriate language within them as part of the effort to cast Allen as responsible for the team’s toxic workplace.

Davis did much the same, acknowledging in his letter that his law firm provided the committee “with a small sample of [Allen’s] workplace communications” on the eve of Allen’s approximately 10-hour remote deposition Sept. 6.

“That the Committee would nevertheless choose to sponsor such a witness, in full awareness of the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic beliefs he tolerated and espoused in his email conversations with his friends, is truly astounding,” Davis wrote.

The surfacing of the emails for the NFL and the committee was part of a multipronged effort aimed at Allen. In spring 2021, Snyder also sent private investigators to the homes of at least a half-dozen former team cheerleaders to solicit information about Allen and sexual misconduct.

“He told me that he was here on behalf of the Washington Redskins to ask me questions about Bruce Allen,” former cheerleading captain Abigail Dymond Welch testified, recounting a private investigator’s visit to her Texas home in May 2021. “He said he was working on behalf of the law firm Reed Smith out of New York. … He then said, ‘This is regarding interactions with Bruce Allen and the sexual misconduct investigation with the Washington Redskins.’ ”

Snyder also used the federal court in what the committee characterized as an abuse of subpoena power to get access to Allen’s phone records, texts, emails and other private communications.

Finally, Snyder publicly aired his campaign to disparage Allen via Wednesday’s letter to the committee, which a lawyer for Snyder amplified in several broadcast interviews in the ensuing days.

Truth and consequences

While Allen had no shortage of detractors among fans during his tenure in Washington, he hasn’t been associated with reports of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Allen was never mentioned by any of the dozens of female former team employees who told The Washington Post that they experienced sexual harassment on the job.

Attorney Lisa Banks, who represents more than 40 former team employees, said that none of her clients mentioned Allen in discussing the sexual harassment and abusive behavior they experienced at work.

“He was not a factor in any of the stories of harassment and abuse I heard from 40-plus clients,” Banks said. “None of my clients reported they had a problem with Bruce Allen. Not one.”

Banks reiterated that in a letter Friday to Davis.

“[T]he repeated attempts by your client to blame former team president Bruce Allen for the toxic workplace culture will certainly fail,” she wrote. “While we have no knowledge whether Mr. Allen was a party to offensive emails, as your letter states, we do know that none of our clients has alleged that Mr. Allen played any role in the harassment or abuse they suffered or witnessed. In fact, most have never even met Mr. Allen.”

Snyder’s targeting of Allen also is notable because it seeks to tarnish a family name that’s entwined with the franchise’s history. Allen’s father, the late George Allen, led Washington to a Super Bowl appearance and seven consecutive winning seasons in the 1970s and is enshrined in the team’s Ring of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Davis’s letter and the committee’s findings also provide new context for the leaks of emails involving Allen that led to Jon Gruden’s resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders last October.

While the committee found team lawyers flagged the emails for Wilkinson and Davis acknowledged sharing some with the committee before Allen’s deposition, it’s unclear who shared the emails with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in October 2021.

Tanya Snyder told fellow NFL owners during a league meeting that month in New York that the leaks did not originate with her or her husband, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. One person familiar with the NFL’s view said then that some league officials believed the leaks had originated with Daniel Snyder through representatives acting on his behalf.

Regardless of who was responsible, the leaks had significant consequences.

Gruden resigned Oct. 11, 2021, as coach of the Raiders within hours of a New York Times report detailing emails he sent over a seven-year span ending in early 2018 to Allen and others that contained homophobic, misogynist and sexist insults, as well as a photo of topless cheerleaders.

The leaks also reignited the controversy over the team’s workplace, three months after the NFL largely had put the matter to rest by fining the team $10 million and announcing that Tanya, the franchise’s co-CEO, would be in charge of the team’s day-to-day operations for an unspecified period.

On Oct. 21, Maloney launched the ongoing probe, citing “serious concerns” about the team’s apparent abusive workplace and the NFL’s lack of transparency in refusing to release Wilkinson’s report.

In November, Gruden filed a lawsuit accusing the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell of using the leaked emails to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career” and pressure him into resigning via “a Soviet-style character assassination.”

The NFL repeatedly has denied leaking the emails, writing in a legal filing that requested dismissal of Gruden’s lawsuit in January, “To be sure, the NFL and the Commissioner did not leak Gruden’s emails.”

Disintegrating partnership

For a decade, Snyder and Allen were virtually inseparable, particularly when team business was at hand.

At training camp each summer and at practices throughout the season, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder surveying players on the field. They attended team-related social functions and political gatherings together, with Allen glad-handing with the political wiles of his elder brother, George, a former Virginia governor and U.S. senator. It was much the same at NFL meetings, where Allen was on a first-name basis with virtually every league executive, team owner, general manager, coach and agent.

“Bruce was a vital connection in terms of knowing people in Richmond and being accessible to us,” said Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City). “Bruce had a lot of connections, either through his brother or personality-wise.”

Even after many fans had soured on Allen — sick of the team’s losing and weary of his ill-advised free agent signings and tone-deaf public remarks, such as the assurance amid a playoff drought that the team was “winning off the field” — he served a useful purpose for Snyder by absorbing hostility that otherwise might have been directed at the owner.

But after a 3-13 season during which Snyder fired Allen’s handpicked coach, Jay Gruden, following an 0-5 start, Snyder fired Allen on Dec. 30, 2019.

Three months later, Snyder notified Allen via the team’s lawyer that he was reducing his guaranteed severance pay 50 percent because of financial conditions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. That letter, dated April 1, 2020, was attached to a May 2021 federal court filing in Arizona in which Allen argued against Snyder’s effort to gain access to his private communication.

“Mr. Snyder’s attempt to withhold my compensation forced me to retain legal counsel and initiate a proceeding through the NFL, in which I prevailed,” Allen stated in the court filing.

As scrutiny over leaked emails rises, Tanya Snyder tells owners the WFT was not the source

Snyder’s attempt to cast Allen as responsible for the team’s toxic workplace does not account for allegations of bad behavior said to have taken place before Allen was hired in December 2009. Among them: The $1.6 million settlement with a female former employee who alleged that Snyder sexually assaulted her in the private compartment of his corporate jet in April 2009 and the creation of a lewd video from outtakes of a 2008 cheerleader swimsuit-calendar shoot that showed exposed nipples and pubic areas, which a team executive reportedly directed be made for Snyder. A similar video was made from outtakes of a 2010 swimsuit shoot.

Snyder has denied the former employee’s 2009 sexual assault claim, and a team investigation concluded it was an extortion attempt. Snyder also said he did not request the creation of the lewd videos or have any knowledge of them. In 2021, the team reached confidential financial settlements with many, if not all, of the 30 cheerleaders whose outtakes were included.

Welch, a Washington cheerleader from 2005 to 2012 and a former squad captain, was among them.

In testimony for the congressional committee, Welch recounted a private investigator’s unannounced visit to her home in May 2021 to solicit disparaging information about Allen.

She had recently moved to Texas with her husband and their three young children, she said, when a neighbor texted while they were vacationing to tell her that a man had parked his car in front of her house for several hours and was “stalking or spying.” The neighbor explained the man finally knocked on her own door, identified himself as a private investigator and asked whether she knew Welch.

Daniel Snyder conducted ‘shadow investigation’ of accusers, panel finds

The man came back after Welch and her family returned from vacation, she said. He knocked on her door, claimed he was a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent and presented a business card that she described as looking “fake.”

Welch told the committee that “perhaps five other” cheerleaders also had been visited at their homes by private investigators, who were “asking questions about Bruce Allen and the sexual misconduct investigation.” The visits, which Welch said she learned about as part of a chat group with former cheerleaders, occurred several months after the NFL told Snyder to “back off” his use of private investigators to query former team employees.

The committee concluded that Snyder scored at least a partial victory in persuading the NFL to shift its investigation to Allen. As Maloney noted, the NFL launched a “targeted review” of Allen’s emails that included “troubling exchanges” between Allen, Jon Gruden and Jeff Pash, the NFL’s general counsel.

Whether those efforts continue to resonate with the NFL — or Snyder’s fellow team owners — remains to be seen.

Multiple owners said recently that they believe serious consideration may be given to ousting Snyder from the league’s ownership ranks, either by convincing him to sell his franchise or by voting to remove him. One owner said, “He needs to sell.”

Eight days after The Post reported those comments, Snyder made an on-field appearance with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before last Sunday’s game between the two teams in Arlington, Tex. The Commanders posted a photo of the scene to social media and called Snyder and Jones “Friends and rivals for 24 years.”

For more than a decade, Snyder leaned on Allen to help him through such perilous times. Now he’s asserting that once-trusted lieutenant is to blame for the latest round of scrutiny.

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