The NFL says the Washington Commanders‘ hiring of an investigative firm won’t stop the league from conducting its own inquiry into Tiffani Johnston’s allegations of sexual harassment against team owner Dan Snyder.
The Commanders announced Wednesday morning that Pallas Global Group LLC, led by former Assistant United States Attorneys Bonnie Jonas and Tiffany Moller, will manage an “independent investigation” into allegations made last week by Johnston before a congressional committee.
But the league clarified later Wednesday that the Commanders’ investigation would be separate from any investigation or action taken by the NFL.
A league spokesman said in a statement, “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. The League, not the team, will conduct an independent investigation and will be retaining an investigator to determine the facts shortly.”
“Apparently the NFL also recognized how absurd it was to think Dan Snyder could investigate himself,” Johnston’s attorney, Lisa Banks, said in a statement to ESPN. “We await communication from the NFL about whether it intends to undertake this investigation independently, and without any common interest agreement with Snyder. If the investigation is truly independent, and the NFL commits to make the findings public, my clients will be happy to participate.”
During a congressional roundtable Thursday, Johnston accused Snyder of touching her without her consent at a work dinner about 13 years ago. Snyder issued a statement denying her allegations.
Pallas Global Group had retained Debra Wong Yang to lead its investigation. 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 Commanders said Yang will “report her findings to Pallas Global Group, and those findings will be released to the public” at the conclusion of the firm’s investigation.
“The Team is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of Ms. Johnston’s allegation, and pledges full cooperation with the investigation,” the Commanders said in a statement.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) told ESPN’s Coley Harvey that this latest move by the Commanders was “disturbing.”
“Dan Snyder already called Tiffani Johnston a liar,” said Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on economic and consumer policy. “And so for him to then hire an investigator to look at those claims begs the question of whether the investigation will really be impartial or unbiased. Or will it be prejudiced in favor of Dan Snyder’s side of the story, because after all, these investigators and these people are being paid by Dan Snyder.”
Banks and Debra Katz, who also represents Johnston and over 40 other former team employees, said in a statement earlier Wednesday that Johnston “will not participate in this sham of an investigation, and the public will not be duped into believing that this is anything other than Dan Snyder trying to whitewash his own misconduct.”
Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, told the House Committee for Oversight and Reform that she was “strategically” placed next to Snyder at a work dinner “not to discuss business, but to allow him, Dan Snyder, to place his hand on my thigh under the table.”
Johnston also said Snyder “aggressively pushed me toward his limo with his hand on my lower back, encouraging me to ride with him to my car” later that night, after the dinner. She said the “only reason Dan Snyder removed his hand from my back and stopped pushing me toward his limo was because his attorney intervened and said, ‘Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea. A very bad idea, Dan.'”
Johnston said the incident occurred either in 2005 or 2006 at the Oceanaire restaurant in downtown Washington. A letter from Jason Friedman, another former employee, was presented at the roundtable, stating he had witnessed Snyder trying to steer Johnston into the limo.
“The idea that Dan Snyder has hired a team to investigate his own actions is utterly absurd,” Banks and Katz said in their statement. “This is a desperate public relations stunt, clearly designed to absolve him of wrongdoing. Our client, Tiffani Johnston, already testified credibly to Congress about her experience of being sexually harassed by Mr. Snyder. Her powerful testimony was corroborated by an eyewitness who submitted a statement to Congress. If there is to be any investigation of Ms. Johnston’s allegations, it should be conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her team, who have spent the better part of the last year investigating the actions of Mr. Snyder and his top lieutenants. 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.
“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. Ms. Johnston will not participate in this sham of an investigation, and the public will not be duped into believing that this is anything other than Dan Snyder trying to whitewash his own misconduct.”
Johnston was one of five women who presented stories of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination to the congressional committee, which has been investigating the team since last fall.
Johnston declined to talk to Wilkinson as part of the initial investigation, but the other five employees who also appeared before the congressional committee that day had already talked to Wilkinson. Because Johnston’s information was new, the NFL said it would look into her allegations.
The committee released documents the following morning announcing that the NFL may not be able to publicly release the findings of its own internal investigation of the Commanders franchise without the explicit permission of Snyder. The committee also released a separate document showing that the team requested a “written investigation” from Wilkinson’s law firm when she was hired to conduct an internal investigation.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has previously contended that the league cannot release the internal investigation because Wilkinson presented her findings orally. The NFL and the Commanders both denied the committee’s assertions, saying they have been forthcoming with documents related to the investigation that did not run against attorney-client privilege.
ESPN’s Tisha Thompson and Coley Harvey contributed to this report.