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Daniel Snyder conducted ‘shadow investigation’ of accusers, House committee finds

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Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and members of his legal team conducted a “shadow investigation” and compiled a “dossier” targeting former team employees, their attorneys and journalists in an attempt to discredit his accusers and shift blame following allegations of widespread misconduct in the team’s workplace, according to the findings of the investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Moreover, Snyder hired private investigators and lawyers to unearth inappropriate emails and evidence aimed at convincing the NFL and Beth Wilkinson, who was conducting a league-sponsored investigation into sexual harassment in the organization, that Snyder’s longtime team president Bruce Allen was primarily responsible for any workplace issues.

The preliminary findings were detailed in a 29-page memo from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairwoman, to fellow committee members ahead of Wednesday’s Capitol Hill hearing on the Commanders’ workplace at which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to testify under oath. Snyder has declined to take part, objecting to the date and the terms.

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“This memorandum describes evidence uncovered by the Committee demonstrating that although publicly, the NFL and Commanders touted the hiring of a respected D.C. attorney [Wilkinson] to conduct an internal investigation of the Commanders toxic workplace, privately, Commanders owner Daniel Snyder launched a shadow investigation in an apparent effort to discredit his accusers in the eyes of the NFL and offer up an alternative target for the investigation,” Maloney wrote in her memo. “Bound together by an agreement to pursue a common interest and a joint legal strategy, the NFL and Commanders ultimately buried Ms. Wilkinson’s findings.”

Team representatives and an attorney for Snyder did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning. Asked for comment on the committee’s findings, an NFL spokesman referred to Goodell’s prepared remarks for Wednesday’s hearing.

“lt required substantial courage for many to relive their painful experiences and tell their individual stories,” Goodell’s comments read, in part. “No one should experience workplaces like the one they described, especially not in the National Football League. I can say to every victim unequivocally that their willingness to come forward has contributed to a substantially improved workplace.

“It is clear to me that the workplace in Washington was unprofessional and unacceptable in numerous respects: bullying, widespread disrespect toward colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment, and harassment. Moreover, for a prolonged period of time the Commanders had a woefully deficient HR function, particularly with respect to reporting practices and record-keeping.”

Document reveals details of 2009 sexual assault allegation against Daniel Snyder

The hearing comes one day after The Washington Post reported that a team employee accused Snyder of sexually harassing and assaulting her in April 2009, three months before the team agreed to pay the woman $1.6 million as part of a confidential settlement, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. Snyder has called the woman’s claims “meritless” and said the team agreed to a settlement only at the guidance of an insurance company.

“Lawyers for Mr. Snyder used their shadow investigation to create a 100-slide dossier with emails, text messages, telephone records, and social media posts from journalists, victims, and witnesses who had made credible public accusations of harassment against the Commanders,” Maloney wrote in the 29-page memo.

The dossier compiled by Snyder’s representatives, according to the committee’s investigation, included Post reporters who’d detailed sexual harassment allegations within the team’s workplace and attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees.

“Mr. Snyder’s legal team made multiple presentations to the NFL during Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, including one that involved a 100-page PowerPoint slide detailing the private communications and social media activity of Washington Post journalists and former employees,” Maloney’s memo said.

That 100-slide dossier was produced from “information obtained through abusive litigation tactics and private investigators who targeted victims and witnesses of the Commanders’ toxic work environment,” the committee found. Snyder’s goal, Maloney wrote, “appears to have been to craft an exculpatory narrative to present to the NFL showing that he was not responsible for the Commanders’ toxic work environment but instead was the victim of a coordinated smear campaign.”

The NFL fined the team $10 million last July, based on the findings of Wilkinson’s investigation. The league also announced then that Snyder would surrender control over the franchise’s daily operations to his wife Tanya, the team’s co-CEO, for an unspecified period. She has represented the team at league meetings since then.

The committee’s investigation found that Snyder and his attorneys sent private investigators to the homes of former team cheerleaders seeking derogatory information about Allen and combed through more than 400,000 emails on Allen’s inactive team account in an effort to convince the NFL that Allen was “responsible for the team’s toxic work culture.”

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Snyder had fired Allen after a decade as team president in December 2019. Allen was not immediately available for comment.

Attorneys representing Snyder provided Wilkinson’s firm and the NFL with the Allen emails, the committee found. An attorney for Snyder “identified the specific inappropriate Bruce Allen emails in attempting to demonstrate that Bruce Allen had created a toxic environment at the Washington Commanders,” Maloney’s memo says.

Several of those emails subsequently appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, including some in which then-Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden used racist, homophobic and misogynistic language over seven years of correspondence with Allen while Gruden worked for ESPN. Gruden resigned from the Raiders after the emails were revealed.

Tanya Snyder told fellow NFL franchise owners at a league meeting in New York in October that neither she nor her husband was responsible for the leaked emails, multiple people present at that meeting said at the time.

Gruden sued the NFL in November, accusing the league and Goodell of using leaked emails to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career” and pressure him into resigning. The NFL has said that it did not leak Gruden’s emails.

The league now is conducting a second investigation of Snyder that is being overseen by attorney Mary Jo White. Goodell has pledged to release those findings, after he refused to release Wilkinson’s findings and saying that Wilkinson delivered only an oral report to the league.

Maloney’s summary of the congressional probe noted that the NFL’s initial contract with Wilkinson called for her to deliver a written report and make recommendations but that the league later “changed its plan.” Maloney’s memo accuses the team and the NFL of obstructing the investigations of both Wilkinson and the congressional panel.

The memo also cites instances in which Snyder took no action against coaches and senior staff yet punished female employees for engaging in consensual relationships with male staff. David Pauken, the team’s former chief operating officer, told the committee that when Snyder learned that a coach had groped a public relations employee, Snyder refused to take action against the coach and instead directed that the PR staffer “stay away from the coach.”

Pauken also testified that Snyder fired female employees who engaged in consensual relationships with male members of the team or its staff. He cited two cheerleaders’ dismissal for relationships with former tight end Chris Cooley.

“The female employees were fired, the male employee was — there were no repercussions other than he was restricted from additional sex with the cheerleaders,” Maloney’s summary states.

Another former COO for the team, Brian Lafemina, testified that when Snyder was informed of sexual harassment complaints made against former broadcaster Larry Michael, he dismissed the allegations by saying that Michael was a “sweetheart” who “wouldn’t hurt anybody.” Michael later resigned.

Former team executive Jason Friedman told the committee that the team’s culture “glorified drinking and womanizing.”

The committee previously detailed Friedman’s allegations of financial improprieties against the team in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. The team denied those accusations.

At a congressional roundtable in February, Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, told committee members that Snyder harassed her at a team dinner, putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo. Snyder called the accusations made directly against him “outright lies.”

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)