NFL taps Mary Jo White to investigate Dan Snyder claims, will release written report

The NFL has hired attorney Mary Jo White to investigate the new accusations made against Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder and will release the findings of the investigation in the form of a written report, a league spokesman said Friday. 

White, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is an experienced investigator who handled the league’s 2018 probe of former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Upon the conclusion of that investigation, which took about five months, the league fined Richardson $2.75 million and Richardson’s sale of the team to billionaire David Tepper was finalized soon after. Richardson, though, announced his intention to sell the Panthers when the allegations first came to light in December 2017, a month before White was hired. 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee that White had been hired to investigate the claims. 

Earlier this month, former Washington employee Tiffani Johnston said in a congressional roundtable that Snyder made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she worked for the team — accusing him of touching her thigh underneath a table at a work dinner and trying to coax her into his limo later in the evening. House Democrats launched an investigation into the NFL’s probe of Washington’s workplace misconduct last October following renewed criticism that a written report was not released.

“As these new allegations were made by individuals in an open forum, with no expectation of anonymity, the findings will be made public at the conclusion of the investigation,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Based on his review of the findings, the Commissioner will determine any appropriate action which will be made public. A written report of the investigator’s findings will be publicly released.”

Last week, the league undercut the Commanders hours after the team said it hired the law firm Pallas Global Group to investigate Johnston’s claims. NFL Roger Goodell told reporters that he did not see how a team could investigate itself. 

The Commanders said in a statement Friday that it was “pleased” the league appointed White and that they would not continue with their investigation. Until Friday, the team had not publicly said whether they planned to continue with Pallas Global Group after the league’s initial announcement. 

“The Commanders have always been intent on having a full and fair investigation of this matter conducted, and to releasing the results of that investigation,” the Commanders said. “Given the Team’s confidence in Ms. White’s ability to conduct such a full and fair investigation, the Commanders will not separately pursue an investigation, and will cooperate fully with Ms. White.”

This marks the second investigation the NFL has launched into Washington. The first probe happened in September 2020 after more than 40 women said they were sexually harassed while working for the team. For that probe, the league used attorney Beth Wilkinson to look into the allegations — keeping Wilkinson on board after Washington first hired her in July, the month 15 women first came forward to document their experience working for the team. 

The league, however, faced sharp criticism upon the conclusion of that investigation. The NFL only released a four-page summary of the findings and no written report was created — which the league said was done to protect the anonymity of those who participated in the probe, a claim that has received pushback from the women involved. The league fined Washington $10 million, though Snyder was not suspended. The league did say Snyder was voluntarily seizing control of the day-to-day operations of the team for several months, with his wife Tanya, stepping in.

Johnston did not participate in Wilkinson’s investigation. She told reporters after the roundtable that she initially decided not to speak up out of fear of retaliation from Snyder, but decided to speak publicly after what she said was a lack of transparency from the league. 

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for Johnston, said last week her clients — including Johnston — would not participate in the NFL’s new probe unless the league committed to an independent investigation in which the findings were made public. On Friday, the pair said they were encouraged by the NFL‘s decision to make the next report public, but questioned why Wilkinson isn’t overseeing this new investigation.

“Beth Wilkinson conducted a long and comprehensive investigation of the Washington Commanders, and earned the trust of dozens of victims and witnesses who provided her with evidence of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse, Banks and Katz said in a statement.  “We understood that Ms. Wilkinson would also conduct the investigation into Tiffani Johnston’s allegations about Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, given her unique knowledge of the Commanders organization, its culture of sexual harassment, and Dan Snyder’s credibility.  Having a new investigator, with no such prior knowledge, assess Ms. Johnston’s allegations and Mr. Snyder’s denials in a vacuum makes no sense at all. 

“That said, we will discuss with Ms. Johnston her willingness to participate, and are pleased that the NFL has agreed to make the results public.  On behalf of our many other clients, we urge Commissioner Goodell to make the same decision with respect to Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation.  Certainly the results of that comprehensive investigation would provide an important blueprint for the new investigator to conduct her work.”

Beyond her probe into the Panthers, White also worked with the NFL regarding “Bountygate,” the 2012 investigation into allegations that players on the New Orleans Saints were paid extra if they injured opponents.  She also served as a U.S. attorney and is currently a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton.

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