House Chairwoman Says She Will Subpoena Daniel Snyder. Here is How it Works Legally & What He May Do…

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Football Team
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

During a heated hearing up on Capitol Hill today, House Oversight & Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney was fuming that Commanders owner Daniel Snyder chose not to show up and voluntarily testify before Congress. She accused him of vacationing on his yacht instead.

In contrast, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did show up and issued a statement condemning the toxic workplace that existed under Snyder’s regime. He assured Congress that the NFL takes the matter seriously, is continuing to investigate it and fined the team substantially ($10 Million Dollars).

Goodell insisted that the reason the Beth Wilkinson investigation report was never made public, was to protect the promised confidentiality of those who participated. Goodell claims that more than one hundred people were interviewed and many only participated because they received promises from the league that their anonymity and the details of their experiences would remain under wraps. Goodell says, for this reason, the NFL opted to get a debriefing from Wilkinson and she did not write a final report. He said the League has already handed over more than 460,000 documents to Congress and continues to vow to cooperate in its investigation.

Representative Maloney vowed to get Snyder in the hot seat. She accused him of running a “shadowy” investigation on women who accused the team and him of misconduct, including by hiring private investigators to intimidate women, offering them hush money and compiling Dossiers on them.

Maloney said she will issue a subpoena to get Snyder to testify before Congress where he will undoubtedly field a flurry of aggressive questions, primarily from Democrats, who seemed to already be convinced of his “guilt” based on their rhetoric at today’s hearing.

Conversely, the hearing was interrupted many times today by Republicans asking off-topic questions of the Commissioner such as why he banned Barstool Sports Founder David Portnoy from games and asking about Deflategate and the “Real Slim Brady.” Other Republicans lamented the use of the Congressional Hearing vehicle to try to grill Goodell and Snyder over a private, corporate workplace incident, when broader issues of national importance are looming, such as baby formula shortages.

This internal partisan revolt is important, because it could influence whether Snyder will be forced to appear before the Committee or not. While Representative Maloney, as Chairwoman, and the Committee have the power to issue a subpoena requiring Snyder to appear and requiring the NFL and Snyder to hand over documents, that subpoena can be challenged in court.

Snyder can and may have his attorneys file a suit, contesting the legal sufficiency of such a subpoena and saying it does not meet the three main requirements that make it valid. Those requirements are as follows: the Committee’s investigation of the subject matter must be authorized by the Chamber (here the Commanders’ toxic workplace and NFL’s handling of the investigation into it must be authorized by the House). Next, the investigation has to pursue a valid legislative purpose. Third, the questions have to be relevant to the subject matter area and cannot go off-topic as they did today in Roger Goodell’s voluntary appearance.

On the one hand, Snyder can argue in court that the Chamber did not authorize the investigation and that it is not for a valid legislative purpose and even use the non-supportive and critical comments from Republicans at today’s hearing to support his point. He can argue that the NFL has and continues to handle the matter and that his club’s inner workings have no effect on workplaces across America.

However, Maloney has stated that it is relevant because the Committee introduced two pieces of legislation designed to address toxic workplace issues and harassment in the workplace. She will argue that the NFL, as the premiere professional football league in America is held to the highest standards as an emblem of conduct and whatever is tolerated at the NFL will influence not only workplaces across America but employees across America. Employees may come to expect poor treatment and employers may think they can get away with it. Similarly, employees may mistreat other employees, feeling that if the NFL can hide and perpetuate such a culture with no serious consequences, then they can too. Maloney and the Committee will argue that the legislative purpose is to protect American workers and enforce existing legislation and introduce new legislation to remedy exactly the types of problems that existed within the Commanders organization, in other workplaces.

Traditionally, Courts have held that congressional subpoenas are within the scope of the Speech and Debate clause and within the domain of the legislative branch. Courts are very hesitant to interfere with matters they deem to be “political questions” or in other words, the purview of another legislative branch. This is called separation of powers. The judicial branch, the executive branch and the legislative branch have their own powers and do not like to step on eachother’s toes except for important and unusual circumstances where the facts merit it.

Most recently, when Representative Maloney subpoenaed financial documents pertaining to former President Donald Trump, the subpoena was challenged and rather than throw it out, the D.C. District Court decided to narrow its scope. We could see something similar here, where Snyder is forced to testify but a court rules that he can only be questioned about specific topics. For example, not asked about David Portnoy, as we saw today.

Otherwise, a court may just throw the case out and Snyder will have to appear and answer all questions truthfully. If he does not tell the truth, he could be brought up on perjury charges, similar to what happened with Roger Clemens when he was accused of lying to Congress about PED use. Clemens was ultimately found not guilty on all six counts in his perjury trial but it was a long and stressful, expensive journey.

If a subpoena is issued by Maloney, Snyder may opt not to challenge it in court and to just show up and answer questions. However, considering that he did not show up voluntarily, he may be poised to fight it. If a court does not rule in his favor, and he still chooses not to show up, then the House can refer the case for possible civil or criminal penalties and hold Snyder in contempt. This would require a vote and it is unclear if there would be the necessary support for such an action.

In the end, I have a feeling we will be seeing Daniel Snyder appearing before Congress, possibly even without challenging the subpoena, and being evasive in the face of most questions. It is sure to be a highly publicized experience for him.

I would not be surprised if the NFL’s Mary Jo White investigation, focusing on allegations made by a cheerleader against Snyder, ends with a recommendation that Snyder sell the team or be voted out. With the new allegations from the Washington Post about a confidential settlement dating back to 2009, he may voluntarily sell the team, in the same way Jerry Richardson sold the Panthers.