The NFL may not be able to publicly release the findings of its internal investigation of 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 Committee for Oversight and Reform 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 of the team.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has previously contended that the league cannot release the internal investigation because Wilkinson presented her findings orally.
In statements released Friday afternoon, the NFL and Snyder refuted the committee’s assertions.
A statement from an NFL spokesperson read in part that “the League, and not the team, has and will determine which information it is in a position to produce.”
Both the NFL and Snyder said they have been forthcoming with documents related to the investigation that did not run against attorney-client privilege.
“Regarding today’s letter from the Committee to the NFL, neither Mr. Snyder nor the team has ever done anything to block the Committee from receiving any documents it has requested from the NFL that are not expressly protected by attorney-client privilege or attorney work product,” Snyder’s attorney Jordan Siev said in a statement. “Finally, all remaining non-privileged emails are being provided to the Committee shortly.”
“To date, we have shared nearly 80,000 pages of documents and made many others available for the Committee to review, in addition to responding to questions from the Committee, both in writing and in the course of numerous discussions,” the NFL spokesperson said.
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 Wilkinson was hired to write a report, but as we know, NFL changed that plan,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) said in a statement Friday. “The second shows the Commanders and NFL agreed to pursue a ‘joint legal strategy,’ raising serious doubts about NFL’s commitment to independence and transparency in investigating the Commanders. We will continue to investigate, get answers, provide accountability for these victims and workers across America.”
Five women appeared before Congress on Thursday, giving details about their allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, revealed for the first time that Snyder touched her without her consent during a work dinner about 13 years ago. Snyder issued a statement denying her allegations.
The women and multiple members of Congress are demanding the NFL release its report to the public.
Debra Katz, one of the attorneys representing more than 40 former team employees, including all five of the women who appeared on Capitol Hill on Thursday, responded in a tweet Friday: “The NFL deceived our clients and the public. Not a single witness — not one — would have participated in the Wilkinson investigation had they been told the truth about the NFL and the WFT’s joint defense agreement.”
She and co-attorney 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 is now carrying his water in stonewalling Congress’ efforts to ensure accountability by making the results of the Wilkinson report public.”
During Thursday’s roundtable discussion Krishnamoorthi noted that, “The NFL has released reports on Ray Rice, the Carolina Panthers, Deflategate, but nothing, nothing with regard to sexual harassment and Washington.”
In the wake of Johnston’s revelations and based on testimony provided by the other women, Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), the chair of the committee, sent a new letter to Goodell on Friday morning.
In the letter, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi tell the commissioner, “You have 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 courageously spoke to Ms. Wilkinson and her team. The Committee’s investigation and the NFL’s own legal documents raise serious doubts about this justification.”
Congress initiated its investigation of the team in October, demanding the NFL release the Wilkinson report, as well as other documents relating to her investigation. On Thursday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Florida) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) questioned whether the NFL should retain what Connolly described as the league’s “special tax status.” The NFL told ESPN that it voluntarily gave up that status in 2015.
In statements to ESPN, a spokesman for Connolly said, “Congress absolutely has a role in this oversight because of the NFL’s decades-old anti-trust protection and because the NFL dominates so much of American culture,” while a spokesman for Wasserman Shultz stated, “There are many tax advantages around the country that have been granted to the NFL and its teams. The anti-trust exemption given to the NFL bestows tremendous benefits on the league, and taxpayer support for its stadiums is notoriously lucrative. Congress, taxpayers and anyone opposed to harassing and discriminatory workplaces should be concerned by the NFL’s conduct.”
The NFL has provided some, but not all, of the documents to committee staff. Krishnamoorthi told ESPN on Thursday there are 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, the Washington Commanders, known as the Washington Football Team at the time, signed a retainer agreement — called an “Engagement Letter” — with Wilkinson and her firm. Some of the document is redacted, but the agreement states that Wilkinson’s firm will “complete a written report of its findings and make recommendations regarding any remedial measures.”
“After assuming oversight of the investigation, however, Mr. Goodell personally instructed that Ms. Wilkinson was to present him with oral, not written, findings in a stark departure from the League’s previous practices,” according to a statement released by the congressional committee Friday morning.
On Dec. 15, 2021, NFL.com stated, “The NFL said there was no written report of Wilkinson’s inquiry” and issued a four-page news release.
“Your decision not to release the written report is deeply concerning,” Maloney and Krishnamoorthi told Goodell in their new letter.
One month after signing the agreement with Wilkinson, a second document — titled a “Common Interest Agreement” and dated Sept. 8, 2020 — details how the NFL and the team pledged to pursue a “joint legal strategy,” agreeing not to share any privileged documents or information exchanged during the investigation without the consent of both the NFL and the team.
The signatures of the two individuals who signed the agreement are redacted, with only “Washington Football Team” and “National Football League, Inc.” visible under the signature line. The committee typically redacts names, signatures and similar information when it releases 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 beginning of the internal investigation by Ms. Wilkinson.”
Committee lawyers and staff have 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 team owner Daniel Snyder, who himself has been accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct by his employees, most recently during yesterday’s Committee roundtable,” according to the statement issued by the committee Friday morning.
When asked to clarify whether the team had discussed, threatened or asserted its privilege under the terms of the agreement, attorneys for the team told the committee, “The Team, and the NFL, have always acted in a manner consistent with the maintenance of that privilege, and there have been discussions, too numerous to recount (which are themselves privileged), regarding the preservation of that privilege.”
In Maloney and Krishnamoorthi’s letter to Goodell, they state that the NFL withdrew from the common interest agreement in October around the time Congress launched its investigation.
“These documents, which were gathered and created as part of the Wilkinson investigation, were stored on servers of a third-party vendor, where they remain. Now, after the NFL’s withdrawal from the agreement, each party claims that absent the other’s consent, they cannot access the documents, let alone release them to the Committee. By dissolving their common interest agreement and withholding consent, the parties may be attempting to create a legal limbo to stop the Committee from obtaining these key investigation documents.”
ESPN’s John Keim contributed to this report.