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Snyder legal team sent investigators to homes of accusers, offered 'hush money' ahead of Wilkinson report, says House committee

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Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder saw his already-sullied reputation take even more hits during a day of congressional testimony and document releases on Wednesday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged two instances of conduct from Snyder that appeared to violate league policy, and Snyder will be subpoenaed to give a deposition to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform next week.

The most chilling testimony, though, came from Abigail Welch, a former cheerleading captain with the team, who described how a private investigator who said he represented Snyder’s legal team spent days waiting outside her suburban Texas home.

The committee alleged that while attorney Beth Wilkinson was looking into allegations of rampant sexual misconduct at the team, Snyder was conducting his own “shadow investigation” in an attempt to pin the blame for the team’s alleged unsafe work environment on others.

In his testimony, Goodell said Snyder was instructed by the league to cease the use of those investigators, but the committee found that he continued to use them through at least the spring of 2021, when Wilkinson’s investigation was wrapping up.

“We made it clear to them they should not be investigating any of these matters,” Goodell said.

Welch, in a previously given deposition, said she first learned of the investigator’s presence while she was out of town.

“My neighbor who was taking care of my dog texted me and told me that a strange man was sitting in a car outside of my house watching the house, and that he had approached her at her home asking questions about me,” she told the committee.

“I was scared because I had three young children ... and I was nervous not knowing what this man wanted and how far he was going to go to get what he wanted.”

Welch said that on a group text with former Washington Redskins cheerleaders, at least five others reported similar experiences.

While the team openly stated it would cooperate with the investigation, there were a number of legal maneuverings happening behind the scenes in an attempt to stymie full disclosure, including a court filing that sought to keep Wilkinson from learning about a $1.6 million sexual harassment settlement from an accusation against Snyder, according to the committee.

“We obtained a secret legal agreement between the NFL and the Commanders that enabled Mr. Snyder to prevent the disclosure of documents and information, including to this committee,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who called for Snyder to be subpoenaed.

Snyder’s legal team even went as far as compiling a 100-slide presentation that charted links between various whistleblowers and journalists to the team employees he suspected of being in on the conspiracy.

Former employee Melanie Coburn told the committee she was offered money in exchange for not speaking about the investigation.

“[Mr. Snyder] offered hush money to a group of us in exchange for our silence last February, but we declined,” she said. “This was offensive and certainly felt like intimidation and witness tampering to us.”

The hearing itself, which featured testimony from Goodell, played out as an act of political theater, with House Republicans using their time to critique the Biden administration for using government resources to investigate a private company instead of focusing on inflation and other societal ills.

“Me personally, I’m a Cowboys fan,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. “So if the product of the Commanders is not good on the field, that’s great for me, personally.”

In one of the day’s testiest exchanges, Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., criticized Goodell for the league’s “woke” policy toward social justice, citing a variety of studies claiming that racism does not exist.

“Congressman, first, I make no apologies for fighting racism,” Goodell said in his response.

At another point in the hearing, Goodell was asked if Snyder reported the sexual harassment settlement in 2009 to the league, and the commissioner said he was unaware of it, which would be a violation of the NFL’s conduct policy.

Another representative asked Goodell if he would commit to removing Snyder from ownership, to which the commissioner noted that he does not have the authority to do that — only a vote of 75% of the league’s ownership can remove Snyder.

Goodell, who acknowledged the then-Redskins workplace to be “toxic,” said it’s the worst workplace situation he’s encountered during his time as commissioner.

“I have not seen a workplace in the NFL that is anywhere near what we saw in the context of that period of time for Washington,” he said.

The commissioner was adamant, though, that those problems have been solved, and that the league and the team have cleaned house to a sufficient degree that there is no need for congressional involvement.

He added that new allegations of sexual assault by Snyder have resulted in a second league investigation, the results of which he will make public.

The committee also heard from David Pauken, former team chief operating officer, who said he was chided by Snyder for not producing a good-looking cheerleading squad in the early 2000s.

The committee wrote: “Mr. Pauken testified that on more than one occasion, when he was summoned to Mr. Snyder’s box before a game, Mr. Snyder remarked to a friend, hey, do you think Dave is gay? And his friend would say, yeah, he must be gay. And Dan would say, yeah, he has to be gay. As ugly as these cheerleaders are. Pauken, are you gay? You must be gay. How could you have a cheerleading squad that looked like this?”

The committee noted that the NFL and team have refused to turn over Wilkinson’s findings, as well as at least 40,000 documents from her investigative file.

The group concluded that simultaneous to Wilkinson’s investigation, Snyder was working to craft a counter-narrative that exonerated him.

The committee wrote: “Mr. Snyder’s goal appears to have been to craft an exculpatory narrative to present to the NFL showing that he was not responsible for the Commanders’ toxic work environment but instead was the victim of a coordinated smear campaign.”

Welch said that when she finally spoke with the private investigator tailing her, he described himself as working “on behalf of the Washington Redskins,” and asked a number of questions about former team president Bruce Allen, who Snyder’s counsel has previously blamed for the workplace environment that led to the allegations.

She described the investigator as not fully on point, though.

She said of his business card, “The text box that says ‘Use this section to write about your business,’ et cetera, et cetera was not deleted or was not filled in, and so it seemed sloppy.”

She added later: “He also flashed a badge and told me that he was former DEA.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Snyder said it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved in the matter.

“This was always going to be little more than a politically-charged show trial, not about uncovering the truth,” the statement said. “Hopefully, the committee will utilize its resources going forward for more pressing national matters, instead of an issue a football team addressed years ago.”

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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