NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testified remotely in front of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform for roughly two hours on Wednesday as part of Congress' investigation into the Washington Commanders' workplace culture.
Commanders owner Dan Snyder was invited to testify but he declined on two different occasions in the past week, citing overseas business commitments and concerns about due process. The committee chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., announced during the hearing that she plans to issue a subpoena to compel him to testify at a deposition next week.
Prior to Wednesday's hearing, the committee released a 29-page document that alleged that Snyder conducted a "shadow investigation" that sought to discredit former employees making accusations of workplace sexual harassment, hired private investigators to intimidate witnesses, and used an overseas lawsuit as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails.
The memo alleges Snyder tried to discredit the people accusing him and other team executives of misconduct and also tried to influence an investigation of the team by attorney Beth Wilkinson's firm.
The committee also alleged that Snyder's attorneys presented the NFL with a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation including "private text messages, emails, phone logs and call transcripts, and social media posts from nearly 50 individuals who Mr. Snyder apparently believed were involved in a conspiracy to disparage him."
In a statement released Wednesday, a spokesman for Snyder characterized the report and the hearing as "a politically charged show trial" and said Congress should not be investigating "an issue a football team addressed years ago."
Goodell told the committee on Wednesday that the team's culture has transformed as a result of the Wilkinson probe and that "Dan Snyder has been held accountable." Asked by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., whether he would remove Snyder as owner, Goodell said, "I don't have the authority to remove him."
An NFL owner can only be removed by a three-quarters majority vote of fellow owners.
The NFL fined the team $10 million last year and Snyder stepped away from its day-to-day operations after Wilkinson presented her findings to Goodell. However, the league did not release a written report of Wilkinson's findings, a decision Goodell said was intended to protect the privacy of former employees who spoke to investigators.
"We did not receive a written report of Ms. Wilkinson's findings for compelling reasons that continue to this day," Goodell said in his opening remarks to the committee. "A critical element of any workplace review is broad participation by both current and former employees. Encouraging employees to come forward and share their experiences, which were frequently painful and emotional was essential to identifying both the organization's failures and how to fix them. To encourage this participation, Ms. Wilkinson promised confidentiality to any current or former employee. For this reason, shortly after we assumed oversight of Ms. Wilkinson's work, we determined that a comprehensive oral briefing would best allow us to receive the information necessary both to evaluate the workplace as it was, and to ensure that the team put in place the policies and processes to reform that workplace -- all while preserving the confidentiality of those who participated in the investigation."
When announcing the discipline, the NFL said none of the people accused of sexual harassment still worked for the Washington franchise. But two separate accusations of sexual harassment by Snyder himself have since surfaced.
Former employee Tiffani Johnston told the committee during a February roundtable that Snyder groped her at a team dinner and tried to force her into his limousine, which Snyder denies. And The Washington Post reported Tuesday that a woman accused Snyder of sexually assaulting her on a team plane in 2009, resulting in a $1.6 million settlement.
Johnston's allegation prompted the NFL to hire former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White to conduct a new investigation of Snyder and the team, and the league plans to release her findings to the public.
Goodell told the committee that the NFL found out about the 2009 allegations by July 2020 and the league made sure Wilkinson was "made aware of the allegations."
Maloney announced on Wednesday that she has introduced legislation to curb the use of workplace nondisclosure agreements and to offer protections for employees whose professional images are used inappropriately. Among the accusations against the Commanders are that team employees produced a video of lewd outtakes from a photo shoot involving the cheerleading squad.
According to the memo, Snyder used a defamation lawsuit against an obscure online media company based in India as a pretext to subpoena emails, phone records and text messages from former employees who spoke to The Washington Post about workplace harassment. The subpoenas were unusually broad, and many of the people targeted "had no plausible connection" to the Indian media company, the committee alleged.
The committee also alleged that Snyder sought to blame former team president Bruce Allen for the problems with Washington's workplace culture and that Snyder's lawyers provided Wilkinson and the NFL with 400,000 emails from Allen's account, highlighting specific ones they deemed "inappropriate." Some email exchanges with Allen included homophobic and misogynistic comments by Jon Gruden, which were leaked to reporters last fall and prompted the Las Vegas Raiders to fire Gruden as their coach.
Witnesses also told the committee that Snyder sent private investigators to their homes and offered them hush money. The NFL was aware of Snyder's use of private investigators, according to documents obtained by the committee, but that did not stop the practice, witnesses said.
Another new allegation came from David Pauken, the team's former chief operating officer, who told the committee in a deposition released Wednesday that Snyder directly ordered the firing of two female employees for having sexual relationships with a player and a coach. He also said the men involved were not disciplined.
Republicans on the committee accused Democrats of going after an NFL team to distract from more pressing issues and exceeding the scope of the committee's mission.
"A core responsibility of this committee is to conduct oversight of the executive branch, but this entire Congress, Democrats have turned a blind eye to the Biden administration," said Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer, the committee's ranking member. "Instead, the Oversight committee is investigating a single private organization for workplace misconduct that occurred years ago."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.