In a ruling that draws attention to strategies employed by Daniel Snyder, majority owner of the Washington Football Team, to unveil the identities of those who badmouth him, U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter last Friday ruled that Jessica McCloughan—the wife of former Washington general manager Scot McCloughan—need not turn over her cell phone records, emails and text messages to Washington Post reporters.
Snyder contends that McCloughan has crucial evidence concerning a so-called “campaign of defamation” being waged against him—a campaign that Snyder maintains is at least indirectly tied to the team’s minority owners. Judge Neureiter disagreed, finding Snyder’s requests “less of a bona fide effort to obtain evidence” and more of “an effort to burden and harass individuals formerly associated with the Washington Football Team who may have acted as sources” for a damaging Washington Post story. The story, published last July, alleged that team employees engaged in sexual harassment and other abuse.
Washington fired Scot McCloughan in 2017. The move involved disparaging allegations brought against McCloughan over purported excessive drinking. It also sparked an arbitration proceeding, in which McCloughan claimed that Snyder and the team owed him $2.8 million (the team prevailed).
The Jessica McCloughan matter relates to several ongoing litigations surrounding Snyder and his ownership.
Last November, Snyder filed his petition in Colorado federal district court naming McCloughan and her Colorado-based holiday display lighting company, Friday Night Lights LLC, as respondents. Snyder’s petition invoked a federal statute that empowers him to obtain evidence—including sworn testimony, emails and texts—for use in a legal proceeding held in another country.
Here, the foreign proceeding is Snyder’s defamation lawsuit against the website Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide (MEAWW) in The High Court of Delhi in India. Snyder sued MEAWW after it claimed his name was on a list maintained by infamous sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein and that Snyder was involved in sex trafficking. Snyder not only refutes these claims as categorically false but charges that MEAWW acted under the direction of unnamed, disguised-as-corporate-entity clients who spurred the Indian media company to spread false information. To that end, Snyder maintains that McCloughan has evidence that would help to prove “hidden third party clients” are responsible.
To support this claim, Snyder’s petition maintains he “learned that at least one third party with close ties to at least certain of the [team’s] minority owners … communicated with Mrs. McCloughan numerous times on a telephone number registered to Friday Night Lights.” The petition goes on to insist the timing of these calls was highly suspicious. “These phone calls,” the petition maintained, “occurred in and on the days prior to and immediately following the publication of the defamatory articles.”
The assertion of communications by a person with close ties to some or all of the team’s minority owners means the person has connections to some combination of Robert Rothman, Dwight Schar and Frederick Smith. The trio of minority owners and Snyder are on opposite ends of a federal lawsuit in Maryland over whether Snyder has the contractual right to buy the shares of some, but not all of three of the minority owners, in response to a third party’s offer to buy out all three. As part of the litigation, Snyder has declared under oath that he “has been the subject of an extortion campaign by plaintiff Dwight Schar.” That dispute, which generated controversy over dueling leaks to the New York Times and Post, is currently before an NFL arbitrator.
Communications between McCloughan and Mary Ellen Blair, whom Snyder fired as his executive assistant in 2017, are of interest to Snyder. In a separate petition filed in a Virginia federal court, Snyder describes Blair as “directly offering” or “alluding” to “the availability of bribes to current [team] employees” in exchange for sharing “false statements” about Snyder.
As described by Judge Neureiter, McCloughan searched her texts and Twitter communications. She found several documents reflecting communications with Blair and a Post reporter. Snyder’s attorneys believe that additional documents exist and that McCloughan has failed to produce them. Yet as surmised by the judge, a supposed link between McCloughan and MEAWW is “tenuous at best.” He also appears skeptical that McCloughan is caught up in an “alleged conspiracy to defame Mr. Snyder by planting fake sex trafficking stories on the Indian website.”
The judge added that Snyder’s demand for additional documents “go far beyond anything related to the defamatory MEAWW articles.” They instead concern references to sexual harassment in the team’s workplace, the topic of the Post story. The judge added that whether “whether Mrs. McCloughan or Ms. Blair were sources for The Washington Post is completely irrelevant to the issue of the defamatory Indian articles.”
Last week, a report surfaced that the NFL was in receipt of an investigative document urging the league to force Snyder to sell the team. The NFL denies the report. Also, it is extremely unlikely that the league could “force” Snyder to sell. Under the NFL’s constitution, removal of Snyder would necessitate, among other conditions, at least 24 of the 32 ownership groups voting in favor. Those hurdles haven’t stopped some to wonder if billionaire Post owner (and Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos might buy the team from Snyder. Would Snyder ever sell his franchise to the owner of the paper that has so closely scrutinized him? That’s a story for another day.