Dan Snyder accused of unwanted sexual advance by former employee

A former cheerleader and marketing manager told members of Congress on Thursday that Dan Snyder once made an unwanted sexual advance at a work-related event — one of several salacious new accusations leveled at the embattled NFL owner one day after he rebranded his football team the “Washington Commanders.”

Tiffani Johnston, who worked for the team when it was the Washington Redskins, accused Mr. Snyder of touching her inappropriately twice. She said he placed his hand on her thigh underneath a dinner table and later on her back.

Another former employee of the team told lawmakers that she had been told that the owner hosted prostitutes at his Colorado home after a separate work event. 

The accusations are the latest developments in a scandal that once seemed to threaten Mr. Snyder’s standing in the NFL, though the only punitive action the league has taken is the assessment of a $10 million fine against the team.

Six former employees of the Washington franchise spoke during a heated roundtable hosted by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, describing for lawmakers a workplace culture rife with fear and inappropriate behavior.

On the dais, Democrats and Republicans clashed over the government’s role in the matter.

The Democrat-controlled committee invited the former employees to speak as part of its investigation into the NFL’s probe of Mr. Snyder’s football organization. The process began in October amid renewed criticism over the league’s decision to not release a written report on the investigation.  

During opening remarks of the nearly two-hour-long meeting, Ms. Johnston said Mr. Snyder tried to “aggressively” push her toward his limousine and encouraged her to take a ride with him. She said it made her uncomfortable as she repeatedly told him no.

“I learned that the only reason Dan Snyder removed his hand from my back and stopped pushing me towards his limo was because his attorney intervened and said, ‘Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea — a very bad idea, Dan,’” said Ms. Johnston, who spent eight years with the club. “I learned that I should remove myself from Dan’s grip while his attorney was distracting him.”

Ms. Johnston said the incident occurred sometime in either 2005 or 2006 at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in the District of Columbia. She told members of Congress that she reported the incident to a supervisor but was directed not to share the story anywhere “outside this office door.”

Speaking with reporters, Ms. Johnston said she did not relate the details of the incident with lead NFL investigator Beth Wilkinson during the league’s investigation. She said she feared retaliation from Mr. Snyder.

“Seeing that since then this report has been brushed under the rug and no transparency, [my husband] and I made the decision coming forward was the right thing to do, as difficult as it was,” she said.

Former cheerleader Melanie Coburn also levied an accusation at Mr. Snyder. She said to the committee that while she was at an event at the owner’s Aspen, Colorado, home, she was told to stay in the basement while team executives partied upstairs. She said a friend later told her that prostitutes were there.

Ms. Coburn told The Washington Times that the incident occurred in January 2005 and that she did share the details with Ms. Wilkinson.

Mr. Snyder said in a statement that the accusations were “outright lies.” He said he has implemented many changes since learning of the overall sexual misconduct involving team officials.

In the statement, Mr. Snyder did not refer to his team as the Commanders, the name the team unveiled Wednesday, and instead used only “the Team” — as in the Washington Football Team.

“I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person,” said Mr. Snyder, who apologized for the team’s misconduct. 

“Tanya and I will not be distracted by those with a contrary agenda from continuing with the positive personnel and cultural changes that have been made at the Team over the past 18 months, and those that we continue to make both on and off the field,” he said, referencing his wife, Tanya Snyder.

Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat, read a letter from former Commanders Vice President Jason Friedman, who wrote that he witnessed the limousine incident involving Ms. Johnston and Mr. Snyder.

Mr. Friedman wrote that he saw Mr. Snyder grab Ms. Johnston’s arm in an attempt to pull her into the vehicle, Ms. Maloney said.

“‘I was shocked,’” Ms. Maloney said Mr. Friedman wrote. “‘Thankfully, Tiffani was able to quickly pull away.’”

An NFL spokesman said the league will review Ms. Johnston’s accusations “as we would any other new allegations regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders.”

“Today’s testimony underscores that all employees deserve a workplace that is free from harassment of any kind and where they feel safe reporting misconduct,” the league spokesman said.

The roundtable also featured contentious moments between Democrats and Republicans. They argued over what the government should do in response to the accusations.

Rep. James Comer, Kentucky Republican, questioned why the committee should examine harassment from one private organization. Many of his Republican colleagues echoed the sentiment. 

Rep. Ralph Norman, South Carolina Republican, acknowledged that the employees were victims but said “nothing” would come from the roundtable. 

Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico Republican, invoked McCarthyism as she blasted the roundtable as a “farce.”

Democrats pushed back.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat, said the committee legislates rules, regulations and laws that govern workplace safety. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat wearing a “Release the Report” T-shirt, ripped the Republicans for “victim-blaming.” That led to a testy shouting match with Mr. Comer in which the gavel was banged multiple times.

Throughout the meeting, Democrats criticized Mr. Snyder and the NFL. Ms. Maloney called for the league to be more transparent. Mr. Krishnamoorthi said Mr. Snyder’s self-portrayal that he was a “hands-off” owner couldn’t be anything further from the truth.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat, questioned the league’s tax-exempt status.

Afterward, Mr. Krishnamoorthi said the committee’s next steps would be to continue to seek information from the NFL. He said the league has not turned over all the requested documents related to its investigation.

“We’re not stopping,” he said. “We’re going to press for the information we requested.”

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