Lawyer worried Dan Snyder got client names via NFL's probe

Sources: Commanders boss Snyder claims 'dirt' on NFL owners, Goodell (3:06)

Multiple owners and league and team sources say they've been told that Dan Snyder instructed his law firms to hire private investigators to look into other owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (3:06)

In a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, an attorney for four dozen former Washington Commanders employees raised "serious concern" that the NFL violated "a very specific promise" of confidentiality that was made to her clients before they testified to investigators about Dan Snyder and the team's toxic workplace culture.

Lisa Banks, the Washington, D.C., lawyer, cited an ESPN report last week that the Commanders' lawyers used NFL investigator Beth Wilkinson's inquiry as a "tip sheet" to compile an "enemies list" that was used by Snyder's law firm to commission private investigations and "harass" her clients, including former team cheerleaders and other former employees.

"If true, this was in clear violation of a very specific promise the NFL made to our clients, through Ms. Wilkinson and her team, that witness names would be kept confidential and not shared with Mr. Snyder or the Washington Commanders," Banks wrote in the letter to Goodell, which was cosigned by her law partner, Debra Katz, and obtained by ESPN.

Banks also threatened to sue the NFL. "If true, the 'tip sheet' allegation is not only morally reprehensible," Banks wrote, "but it also provides the basis for us to take legal action against the NFL, which we will do given the serious harm caused to our clients by their reliance on the NFL's promises."

Banks asked for a meeting with Goodell to discuss whether the "tip sheet" allegation is "unfounded."

"If you ignore our request, as you have with our past requests to talk to you directly, we will assume that the reporting by [ESPN reporter Don] Van Natta is true and we will move forward with formal legal action on behalf of our clients," Banks wrote.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy released a statement denying that the league shared the witnesses' names with Snyder or the team.

"We have said repeatedly that we are committed to protecting the anonymity of all witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation," the statement said. "The NFL did not share their names with the Commanders and their lawyers. The allegation is false. Ms. Wilkinson and her firm kept their pledge to the witnesses and did not share their identities with the Commissioner or League staff other than the limited number of participants who were willing to be identified."

A Commanders spokesperson issued a statement Tuesday calling ESPN's reporting "false" and saying that "neither the team nor Mr. Snyder was ever advised by the NFL, Ms. Wilkinson, or anyone else, about the progress of the investigation, or who had been interviewed in connection with it -- either during the investigation or afterwards."

"Even now, the team and Mr. Snyder have not received any information from the NFL or Ms. Wilkinson on these matters," the statement said.

Goodell has said repeatedly, including during testimony before a Congressional committee in June, that he did not ask Wilkinson for a written investigative report "for compelling reasons that continue to this day" -- to protect the women's anonymity.

"We determined that a comprehensive oral briefing would best allow us to receive the information necessary both to evaluate the workplace as it was, and to ensure that the team put in place the policies and processes to reform that workplace -- all while preserving the confidentiality of those who participated in the investigation," Goodell told the committee.

Banks said four of her clients were approached by private investigators, and one, she said, was visited by a private investigator within a day of speaking to Wilkinson's investigators. According to congressional testimony, the investigators were hired by Snyder's law firm, Reed Smith, and Banks said the investigators told her clients they were hired by Reed Smith.

"It's infuriating that Roger Goodell claimed he couldn't release the Wilkinson report because he was protecting my clients' confidentiality, and now we find out that he allowed the investigation's witness list to be used as 'a tip sheet' for Dan Snyder's lawyers and their private investigators," Banks told ESPN.

"But if it wasn't for that assurance, some of my clients would not have participated in this investigation," Banks told ESPN in an interview. "They feared retaliation from Dan Snyder."

The NFL and the Commanders struck a "common interest agreement" on Sept. 8, 2020, to share information during the Wilkinson inquiry of Snyder and the Washington franchise's toxic workplace culture. The agreement says that the NFL and the team "share common legal interests, and that in furtherance of such interests, the Parties have and will continue to share information and communications with Wilkinson Walsh and with each other in connection with the Investigation." In a memorandum issued in June, congressional investigators wrote that the agreement opened a back channel to the probe and that "Snyder continued to receive periodic updates throughout the course of the Wilkinson Investigation."

The agreement was signed nine days after the NFL took over the Wilkinson investigation from the team because the league discovered Snyder's attorneys were interfering with her inquiry into the toxic workplace culture.

Wilkinson did not release a final report of her findings of Snyder and the team. She made an oral presentation to Goodell, who on July 1, 2021, fined Snyder $10 million and said Snyder agreed to "step away" from the day-to-day running of his team.

After the NFL took over the investigation, Banks said she complained in an email to Lisa Friel, the NFL's special counsel for investigations, that at least several of her clients were being harassed by private investigators.

Banks said in her letter that "after the NFL revealed witness names, several of our clients were harassed by private investigators, some were publicly disparaged and/or removed from team alumni groups, at least one who was still working for the team was terminated."

"No one ever believed that Roger Goodell did not release the Wilkinson report because he cared about confidentiality," Banks said in an interview. "Reports are routinely written in a way to protect the identity of individuals so they can be made public, just as Mary Jo White's report soon will be."

White, a former SEC chairwoman, is currently investigating Snyder, including allegations that he sexually harassed two women, in an inquiry that began in February. When she reports her findings to Goodell, the commissioner intends to meet with Snyder, league sources said.

John Brownlee, one of Snyder's lawyers, was asked on a Washington radio station Monday why Snyder and team lawyers won't "dissolve the common interest agreement" and release Wilkinson's findings.

"Roger Goodell went before Congress under oath and told Congress there is no report. And he told Congress that he decided -- he alone decided -- that he didn't want a written report. What he wanted was the findings presented to him in a meeting orally by Beth Wilkinson," Brownlee said. "He set this up this way because he wanted people to feel like they could come in, speak freely to Beth and not have some written report out there that reveals their identity."

Brownlee added that former Commanders employees who have testified before a Congressional roundtable and have spoken out publicly were "free to do that" and the "team did nothing to try to stop that."

He said that there is "no Wilkinson report to release ... and the team and Dan Snyder had zero to do with that."

Banks said, of the agreement between Snyder and the NFL, Snyder had "veto power" on the release of any findings. "They chose not to [release the findings] here not because they were trying to protect confidentiality or confidences but they were trying to protect Snyder," she said.

Prior to an NFL owners meeting at a Manhattan hotel Tuesday, a senior team executive told ESPN the "common interest agreement" has always troubled senior executives and some owners because it helped Snyder and the NFL jointly monitor and control the Wilkinson investigation.

"Everyone knows the common interest agreement is the main exposure for the league," said the team executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's the main weak point for the league."