The NFL may not be able to release the findings of its internal investigation into the Washington Commanders without the explicit permission of owner Daniel Snyder, according to a document released Friday morning by the congressional committee investigating the NFL.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee also released a second document Friday that shows how the team requested a ‘written investigation’ from Beth Wilkinson’s law firm when she was hired to conduct an internal investigation. on the team.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell previously argued that the league could not release the internal investigation because Wilkinson presented his findings orally.
In statements released Friday afternoon, the NFL and Snyder refuted the committee’s claims.
A statement from an NFL spokesperson said in part that “the League, not the team, has and will determine what information it is able to produce.”
The NFL and Snyder said they provided materials related to the investigation that did not violate attorney-client privilege.
“With respect to today’s letter from the Committee to the NFL, neither Mr. Snyder nor the team ever did anything to prevent the Committee from receiving the documents he requested from the NFL that are not expressly protected by attorney-client privilege or attorney’s work product,” Snyder’s attorney, Jordan Siev, said in a statement. “Finally, all remaining unprivileged emails will be provided to the Committee shortly.”
“To date, we have shared nearly 80,000 pages of documents and made many more available to the Committee for review, in addition to answering questions from the Committee, both in writing and in numerous discussions,” said the NFL spokesperson.
The documents released Friday by the committee were provided by the NFL as part of the league’s response to the congressional investigation into what the committee calls a decades-long toxic work environment under Snyder’s tenure.
“This morning we released two key documents: the first shows that Wilkinson was hired to write a report, but as we know the NFL has changed that plan,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) said in a press release on Friday. “The second shows that commanders and the NFL have agreed to pursue a ‘joint legal strategy,’ raising serious doubts about the NFL’s commitment to independence and transparency in the investigation of commanders. We will continue to investigate, get answers, report on these victims and workers across America.”
Five women appeared before Congress on Thursday, giving details of their allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Tiffani Johnston, the team’s former marketing and events coordinator, first revealed that Snyder touched her without her consent at a work dinner about 13 years ago. Snyder released a statement denying his allegations.
The women and several members of Congress are demanding that the NFL make its report public.
Debra Katz, one of the attorneys representing more than 40 former team employees, including the five women who appeared Thursday on Capitol Hill, replied in a tweet on Friday“The NFL has misled our customers and the public. Not a single witness – not a single one – would have participated in the Wilkinson investigation if they had been told the truth about the NFL-Lawrence Joint Defense Agreement. WFT.”
She and co-lawyer Lisa Banks told ESPN in a statement: “Goodell was anything but an honest broker when it came to this investigation. He was an active co-conspirator with Dan Snyder and now carries his waters in the efforts of the Congress ensure accountability by making the results of the Wilkinson Report public.”
During Thursday’s roundtable, Krishnamoorthi noted that “the NFL has released reports on Ray Rice, Carolina Panthers, Deflategate, but nothing, nothing regarding sexual harassment and Washington.”
Following Johnston’s revelations and based on testimony provided by the other women, Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), the committee chair, sent a new letter to Goodell Friday morning.
In the letter, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi tell the commissioner: “You claimed that the NFL did not release Ms. Wilkinson’s findings in order to protect the ‘security, privacy and anonymity’ of the more than 150 witnesses who have courageously spoken to Ms. Wilkinson and her team. The Committee’s investigation and the NFL’s own legal documents raise serious doubts about this justification.”
Congress launched its investigation into the team in October, requiring the NFL to release the Wilkinson report, along with other documents related to its investigation. On Thursday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Florida) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) debated whether the NFL should retain what Connolly described as the league’s “special tax status.” The NFL told ESPN it voluntarily relinquished that status in 2015.
In statements to ESPN, a spokesperson for Connolly said, “Congress absolutely has a role in this oversight because of the NFL’s decades-long anti-trust protection and because the NFL so dominates American culture.” , while a spokesman for Wasserman Shultz said, “There are numerous tax benefits across the country that have been granted to the NFL and its teams. The anti-trust exemption granted to the NFL confers enormous benefits to the league, and taxpayer support for its stadiums is notoriously lucrative. Congress, taxpayers and anyone opposed to harassment and discrimination in the workplace should be concerned about the conduct of the NFL.”
The NFL provided some, but not all, of the materials to committee staff. Krishnamoorthi told ESPN on Thursday there were more than 650,000 emails and documents related to the investigation. Friday marks the first time the congressional committee has released any of the documents submitted by the NFL.
In August 2020, Washington Commanders, then known as the Washington Football Team, signed a mandate agreement – called a “letter of commitment” – with Wilkinson and his company. Part of the document is redacted, but the agreement states that Wilkinson’s company “will complete a written report of its findings and make recommendations regarding any corrective action.”
“After assuming oversight of the investigation, however, Mr. Goodell personally asked Ms. Wilkinson to present him with oral and unwritten findings, a departure from previous League practice,” according to a statement released by the committee. of Congress. Friday morning.
On December 15, 2021, NFL.com said, “The NFL has said there is no written report of Wilkinson’s investigation” and issued a four-page press release.
“Your decision not to release the written report is deeply concerning,” Maloney and Krishnamoorthi told Goodell in their new letter.
A month after signing the deal with Wilkinson, a second document – titled “Agreement of Common Interest” and dated September 8, 2020 – details how the NFL and the team have committed to pursuing a “joint legal strategy”. , agreeing not to share any documents or privileged information exchanged during the investigation without the consent of the NFL and the team.
The signatures of the two people who signed the agreement are redacted, with only “Washington Football Team” and “National Football League, Inc.” visible below the signature line. The committee typically redacts names, signatures and similar information when releasing these types of documents to the public, a source said.
In a statement, the congressional committee says the document “appears to apply retroactively to July 16, 2020 — the start of Ms. Wilkinson’s internal investigation.”
Lawyers and committee staff interpreted this to mean that under this agreement, “the NFL may not have been able to release the results of the Wilkinson investigation to the public without the permission of the owner. team member Daniel Snyder, who himself has been accused of several acts of sexual misconduct by his employees, most recently during the Committee’s roundtable yesterday,” according to the statement released by the Committee on Friday morning.
When asked to clarify whether the team had discussed, threatened or asserted privilege under the terms of the agreement, the team’s attorneys told the committee, “The team and the NFL have always acted in a manner consistent with the maintenance of this privilege, and there have been discussions, too numerous to recount (which are themselves privileged), concerning the preservation of this privilege.”
In Maloney and Krishnamoorthi’s letter to Goodell, they state that the NFL withdrew from the mutual interest agreement in October, around the time Congress launched its investigation.
“These documents, which were collected and created as part of the Wilkinson investigation, have been stored on the servers of a third-party vendor, where they remain. Now, after the NFL’s withdrawal from the agreement, each party claims that without each other’s consent, they cannot access the documents, let alone turn them over to the Committee.By dissolving their mutual interest agreement and withholding their consent, the parties may attempt to create a loophole to prevent the Committee from obtaining these key investigative documents.
ESPN’s John Keim contributed to this report.