Last week, the League stated that we will review and consider Ms. Johnston’s allegations as we would any others regarding workplace conduct at the Washington Commanders, ”NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. “The League, not the team, will conduct an independent investigation and will be retaining an investigator to determine the facts shortly.”
Hours earlier, the Commanders announced that Debra Wong Yang, a former California state judge would lead an investigation overseen by two former assistant U.S. attorneys, Bonnie Jonas and Tiffany Moller, of Pallas Global Group.
“The Team is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of Ms. Johnston’s allegation, and pledges full cooperation with the investigation, ”the franchise said in a news release.
There will be only one investigation of these latest allegations and it will be run by the NFL, a person familiar with the league’s plans said, adding that the NFL will choose new investigators. The league was blindsided Wednesday morning by the team that it had planned its own investigation, that person said.
This marks the second time the league has trumped Snyder’s investigative efforts. The team had previously launched an investigation in July 2020, after The Washington Post reported on dozens of women’s experiences of being sexually harassed, demeaned and degraded by team officials. Snyder initially hired high-profile attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate the franchise, but seven weeks later, the NFL took over the investigation.
The new probe stems from allegations that were not covered in that initial investigation. At a Feb. 3 congressional roundtable on the franchise’s workplace culture, Johnston described years of sexual harassment from executives. She accused Snyder of making unwanted sexual advances during a work dinner, saying the owner put his hand on her thigh and pressed her toward his limo, Snyder later called “outright lies.”
Snyder hired a legal team from Pallas Global Group that will be headed Bonnie Jonas and Tiffany Moller, both of whom previously served as assistant U.S. attorneys, according to a news release the team issued Wednesday. They’ve retained former California state judge Debra Wong Yang to lead the investigation.
Lisa Banks, the Washington attorney who represents Johnston and more than three dozen former employees, said it was “utterly absurd” that Snyder hired a team “to investigate his own actions.” She said Johnston would not participate in what she called a “sham” investigation, and “the public will not be duped into believing that this is anything other than Dan Snyder trying to whitewash his own misconduct.”
“This is a desperate public relations stunt, clearly designed to absolve him of wrongdoing,” Banks said in a statement Wednesday.
Yang is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP in Los Angeles and previously served as the firm’s chair of the white collar defense and investigations practice group. The team said in its statement that Yang will report her findings to Pallas Global Group, “and those findings will be released to the public.”
The team did not say how those findings will be released and made no mention of a potential written report.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to address the matter Wednesday afternoon at a leaguewide news conference ahead of the Super Bowl.
Snyder, whose wife Tanya assumed day-to-day responsibilities of the club after the investigation, did not appear publicly for several months. Snyder spoke at the team’s unveiling of its new Commanders name last week but did not take questions. His current role with the team has not been made public.
Snyder had pledged his support publicly to Wilkinson’s initial investigation, but lawyers and private investigators working on his behalf took steps behind-the-scenes that potential witnesses viewed as attempts to interfere with the investigation, the Post reported in December.
On Feb. 3, Johnston, the former cheerleader and marketing manager, was one of six former team employees to appear at the congressional roundtable. She and Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and marketing director as well, detailed new allegations against Snyder, including that team executives hired prostitutes during a business trip at Snyder’s Aspen, Colo. home.
Those allegations had not previously been reported to league investigators, and the NFL said Feb. 3 it would consider further disciplinary measures.
Banks said any further probes into Snyder’s conduct should be conducted by Wilkinson and her team.
“The fact is that Mr. Snyder has gone to great lengths to conceal the truth and his retention of this team is just his latest effort to paint a false picture of his behavior, ”she said. “If, as Mr. Snyder claims today, he genuinely wanted the truth about his actions to emerge, he would have embraced the public release of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings. Instead, he worked with the NFL to block the release of the Wilkinson report. And now, he has handpicked new investigators to do what apparently the Wilkinson report did not do – sugarcoat his own actions. ”
Snyder’s attorney, Jordan Siev, defended the newly-announced probe and reasserted the team’s intention to release the findings.
“It is notable that Ms. Johnston declined to participate in [Wilkinson’s] investigation, yet her counsel is now is pushing for Ms. Wilkinson to investigate the very matter Ms. Johnston refused to discuss with her during the investigation, ”Siev said in a statement.
This is a developing story and will be updated.