The ongoing investigation by the House Oversight Committee into allegations of workplace misconduct involving Washington Commanders executives and owner Daniel Snyder escalated on Wednesday when chairwoman U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both Democrats, sent letters to Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell requesting they appear before a hearing on June 22.
Goodell and Snyder would take on legal risks by testifying. With Republicans expected to gain a House majority following November’s midterm elections, the two men might be inclined to “run out the clock” in hopes new leadership won’t seek compelled testimony.
The committee, which launched the probe last October, has repeatedly expressed frustration by what it regards as league and team unwillingness to fully address allegations. The panel believes key details have been concealed and that nondisclosure agreements have wrongfully silenced accusers. The league has rejected those depictions, arguing it’s voluntarily turned over more than 210,000 pages of documents and hired former Securities and Exchange chair Mary Jo White to investigate. The scope of the investigation has also expanded, with the committee looking into allegations of irregularities in the sharing of ticket revenue.
If they agree to testify, Goodell and Snyder would find themselves under oath during a high-profile hearing that the public could likely watch on TV. If committee members believe either executive knowingly lied while testifying, they could refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for consideration of perjury, obstruction and other criminal charges.
That is not an abstract threat.
In the wake of retired MLB pitcher Roger Clemens testifying before the committee in 2008 on alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, the committee directed the Justice Department to investigate. Not long thereafter, Clemens was indicted for obstruction of Congress, false statements and perjury (a jury later found him not guilty).
Committee members could also ask Goodell and Snyder about a wide range of topics that touch on sensitive issues—including those at issue in litigation.
For instance, members could ask Goodell to comment on concerns raised by Brian Flores in his employment and race discrimination case. Members could also direct inquiries on Jon Gruden’s assertions that the league leaked emails he sent to then-Washington president Bruce Allen in 2011. In essence, members could perform the kind of work attorneys would conduct in pretrial discovery. Attorneys for Flores and Gruden could use the Congressional testimony to advance their cases.
Alternatively, if Goodell and Snyder agree to testify but, due to the Flores and Gruden litigations, decline to answer certain questions “on advice of counsel,” some in the public and media might raise suspicions and suggest the two have unflattering information to hide. In that situation, public relations factors might eclipse legal strategy in importance.
Goodell and Snyder could also lawfully decline the requests to testify. The committee could then turn to subpoenas, which would legally compel testimony. Goodell and Snyder, however, could see if the committee is willing to take the next step and pursue measures to enforce the subpoenas. Goodell and Snyder could also petition a federal court to stop the enforcement. They might argue that requested testimony would involve the sharing of trade secrets or materials shielded by attorney-client privilege, work product doctrine or other protective categories. Enforcement of Congressional subpoenas can become a legally complicated and time-consuming process.
Timing matters. The longer Goodell and Snyder can delay having to answer questions, the more likely they won’t have to answer them at all. The committee’s chair and agenda will change should the GOP, as widely expected, win the House in November.