Enter the House Supervisory Committee. Last October, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who heads her subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, announced their own investigation. “The NFL has one of the most important platforms in America,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “The NFL’s lack of transparency about the issues it has recently uncovered raises questions about how seriously it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism and homophobia – setting a troubling precedent for other venues of work.”
The committee has a fairly broad mandate, and there is precedent for sticking one’s nose in professional sports. In the 2000s, Democratic and GOP members looked into the use of steroids in baseball, bringing people like Roger Clemens to testify. But given the politics of the #MeToo allegations (and subsequent revelations that Wilkinson’s investigation uncovered racist and homophobic emails from former Raiders coach Jon Gruden), this time the subject was a political catnip for Democrats — and a target ripe for pushback by Republicans.
At an ugly public roundtable in February, former team employees detailed the horrific workplace misconduct, harassment and various other topics of Wilkinson’s unpublished investigation. They also ran into something Snyder’s previous public critics have rarely experienced: loud denial from people not on the team’s payroll.
Republicans on the committee took turns chastising their fellow Democrats for focusing on the issue in the first place — instead of, say, the border. Year-old harmful tweets by a witness critical of Snyder were referenced from the dais. Several members asked skeptical questions about why the women did not go to court or the EEOC and suggested the whole affair amounted to congressional grandstanding. A few Republicans on the committee noted, without elaborating, that the team’s culture had improved.
Say what you want about the line of questions or talking points in favor of commanders, but here’s what it looks like when a political battle has been waged.
“This hearing is a farce,” said New Mexico GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell, who took the time to point out that the witnesses happily left the team and recruited other women for jobs there. down. “The commission is ridiculous and it is an abuse of power. This turns into a Joe McCarthy situation. Later, after Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly accused Republicans of victimizing women a second time, Ranking Member James Comer of Kentucky huffed, “This is complete crap.” Lots of screaming ensued.
Unfortunately for Snyder, the time-wasting Congressional script was overwhelmed by big news from the hearing: One of the witnesses, Tiffani Johnston, testified that she was personally harassed by Snyder himself; another claimed that prostitutes had been hired during a business trip to the owner’s home in Colorado. Snyder called the claims “outright lies”. The NFL has promised another investigation, this one by Mary Jo White, the former SEC chairwoman and US attorney in New York. The news quickly overshadowed the team’s big news from the day before, when they rolled out their new name.
But in recent weeks, new headlines have opened the committee up to accusations of abuse of power – which the team’s defenders have used with agility.
Last month, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi released a letter to the Federal Trade Commission detailing allegations the committee had gathered from a former team employee, who claimed he was told to use sleazy accounting to potentially protecting the team from having to share ticket revenue with other NFL franchises. . Officially, the letters simply asked the FTC to look into the allegations — something the team strongly denied in its own letter. Yet for Commanders, that meant another round of bad headlines. Local attorneys general in DC (a Democrat) and Virginia (a Republican) have also promised new investigations.
But back on the Hill, the issues raised by the letter were weaponized in favor of the team. Why did a bullying and harassment investigation focus on allegations of accounting misdeeds? Why would a multi-billion dollar sports franchise resort to the kind of small-ball chasing represented by the allegations? What about the character of the guy who made them? Why make such a big show of the FTC benchmark, anyway? “You are using Committee resources to publicly attack a private company unrelated to the federal government,” Comer Maloney wrote in another public letter. “Worse still, you’re relying on one-sided, unsubstantiated claims from a disgruntled former employee who had limited access to team finances, was fired for violating team policies, and has his own creative story. from a toxic workplace.”
Democrats on the committee, for their part, say the accounting allegations emerged organically when interviewed on other topics; that the referral to the FTC came because they have no intention of shifting their focus on workplace culture; and that it was done publicly because it would have leaked anyway.
In the world of Washington football superfans, however, accounting allegations have a special meaning: if it can be somehow proven that Snyder took money from other owners’ pockets, wishful thinking goes, maybe that would be what drives the league to push him out. Of course, that is not the goal the House inquiry is supposed to pursue.
Superfans is a pretty good description of Tom and Mike Manatos. The Democratic lobbyists are DC-area natives and team stalwarts whose glory days coincided with growing up in Bethesda. Tom Manatos runs the FireDanSnyder.org site, which collects unflattering Snyder headlines and allows visitors to write to their local elected officials demanding that no money be spent on a new team stadium until there is a new team owner.
The Manatos scheduled a fundraiser for Krishnamoorthi in early May, sending out an invitation to friends along with an email from Mike Manatos who read, “The only person in Washington who may have found a way to get rid of Snyder [as the team’s owner] is my good friend and Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi…Tom and I hope you can join us on May 10th as a small group of us meet with Raja to discuss His efforts.
Tying fundraising to specific congressional actions is a no-no. When my colleague Daniel Lippman reported on the email, the fundraiser was abruptly called off. But the whole thing served to blur the image of the antagonistic commanders.
That Snyder’s politics swung from toxic culture universal disapproval to typically partisan divisiveness was perhaps inevitable, though the team deftly took advantage of it. The tone of the GOP pushback has been less pro-Snyder than anti-anti-Snyder. But in 2021, that might be enough. “I think it’s less about their affection for Snyder and more about the ingrained partisanship,” says Lisa Banks, the prominent lawyer who represents some of the women pro bono. “As you well know, whatever Democrats are for, Republicans are against, and vice versa. And so, because the Oversight Committee is conducting this investigation, Republicans have toed the party line. Banks says that, with one exception, GOP staff appeared professional and empathetic in their behind-the-scenes interactions.
Snyder himself was a Republican donor, donating $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration. But much of his other giving has involved candidates running in his native Maryland, or Virginia, where his team’s offices are based; he hasn’t been a big GOP player nationally. There is no record of any donations to the Oversight Committee Republicans.