Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder’s showdown with Congress is intensifying. With potential litigation looming over a committee’s request for him to testify, Snyder and his legal team are making moves—both figuratively and literally—that could sideline Congress’s authority until political changes render the controversy moot.
Last Thursday, Snyder’s attorney, Karen Patton Seymour, sent a letter to House Committee on Oversight and Reform chair Carolyn Maloney complaining that discussions with her staff “have not been fruitful.” Seymour, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, opined that the committee neither “sufficiently respect[s]” Snyder’s “right to fundamentally fair treatment” nor appreciates the logistical challenges presented by her travel schedule and Snyder’s religious observance of the one-year anniversary of the death of his mother, Arlette Snyder.
Snyder declined to voluntarily appear at a June 22 committee hearing—bluntly titled “Tackling Toxic Workplaces: Examining the NFL’s Handling of Workplace Misconduct at the Washington Commanders”—in which Democratic members accused league commissioner Roger Goodell of failing to hold Snyder accountable. Republican members, in contrast, portrayed the hearing as wasteful of the committee’s time and taxpayers’ dollars. Maloney insisted that Snyder’s refusal “sen[t] a clear signal that he is more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean to the American public.” Snyder, who was in France, signaled he didn’t believe he’d get a fair shake and that his requested appearance was for political theater.
After the hearing, the committee tried to serve a subpoena that would have compelled Snyder’s deposition on June 30. Seymour told the committee neither she nor Snyder was available on that date. Seymour was traveling to Europe “for unrelated business matters” and Snyder was off to Israel to “spend much of July engaged in long-planned events to mark the first Yahrzeit, or anniversary, of the passing of his mother.” Seymour added that “observance of the Yahrzeit is a sacred obligation in Judaism,” that Snyder and his family will also “dedicate a Torah scroll” in honor of Mrs. Snyder, and that the Snyder family will remain in Israel into August as part of “these religious observances.”
Seymour nonetheless promises her client could make himself available for a voluntary (non-subpoenaed) appearance by Zoom, provided it took place on July 28 or 29 and that her “due process concerns” are resolved. She said she’d travel to Israel to join Snyder. This is an important point. Should the committee turn to the courts to demand that Snyder testify, Snyder can more persuasively argue he has negotiated with the committee in good faith by pointing out he’s offered to appear. Stated differently, Seymour is building a record of facts that could prove advantageous in potential legal proceedings.
July 28 and 29, however, happen to be the last days the House is in session before the August recess. The House won’t resume committee work until Sept. 6 and legislative work until Sept. 13, a mere two months before the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Seymour says the committee ignored her offer and instead demanded that Snyder appear for a deposition on July 6 or 8. Seymour rejected that request because those days “conflicted with my preexisting work commitments.” In a follow-up phone call, Seymour says committee staff “pressed not only for details of my specific business commitments” but “the precise schedule of the [Snyder-related] memorial events and religious observances.”
Seymour is a formidable figure in the legal community. She served as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s general crimes unit during the 1990s and chief of the criminal division in the Southern District of New York from 2002 to 2004. The former federal prosecutor is an expert in corporate governance and recently worked for Goldman Sachs as general counsel.
The committee says it will continue to negotiate with Seymour, while highlighting what it terms Snyder’s “continued refusal to allow his attorney to accept service of a subpoena.”
The committee appears unpersuaded by the merits of Snyder’s unavailability. It’s unclear, for example, why Seymour—and only her—can serve as Snyder’s counsel for his testimony. Consistently ranked among the country’s 10 most prestigious law firms, Sullivan & Cromwell has a roster of more than 875 attorneys. It is common when one attorney is unavailable for another to cover for her or him. The uninterruptible and multiweek status of Snyder’s “religious observances” also invites scrutiny. The Yahrzeit is ordinarily described as a one-day commemoration that involves the lighting of a memorial candle or lamp. Why Snyder can appear by Zoom on two days in late July—from Israel or elsewhere—but not on other days remains unclear. He likely hasn’t earned the committee’s benefit of the doubt, particularly given previous committee complaints about the willingness of Snyder and his team to cooperate.
If the committee concludes that Snyder is simply dodging his obligation, it can petition a federal court to declare that Snyder must comply with a subpoena. The accompanying legal process, however, could last months and potentially past Jan. 3, when the 118th Congress will begin. The Republicans are expected to win a majority of the House, meaning the Oversight Committee will have a new chair. Given the sentiment expressed by Republican members, it seems unlikely the next committee will expend significant energy on Snyder.
Time, or lack thereof, is a relevant factor in other ways. Due to redistricting, Maloney is running for reelection against another longtime and well-known member of Congress, Jerry Nadler. A recent poll in the new district showed a plurality of voters were undecided. Several other committee members are in the throes of competitive races that could demand they spend more time back home.
Meanwhile, Snyder’s hold on the Commanders doesn’t appear at risk. Goodell told the committee Snyder has already been punished for the workplace scandal, with his team fined $10 million and his wife, Commanders co-CEO Tanya Snyder, attending league and owners’ meetings that Snyder previously attended. The NFL has never terminated the ownership of a majority owner. To do so would require, among other steps, a vote by three-fourths of the other 31 ownership groups.