Congressional committee contends NFL has “no valid basis” to withhold WFT documents

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A baker’s dozen of bright, objects from the eleventh Sunday of the 2021 NFL season isn’t nearly enough to lessen the ongoing Congressional glare created by the WFT investigation.

Via the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee disputes the NFL’s contention that one or more legal privileges attach to documents and other information the Committee has requested from the league regarding the 10-month probe into workplace misconduct over a period of years at the franchise owned and operated by Daniel Snyder.

“The NFL has no valid basis to withhold the documents the Committee is seeking,” a spokesperson for the Committee recently told the Wall Street Journal. “We expect the League to honor the commitment made by the Commissioner and fully comply with the Committee’s requests.”

When responding to the initial inquiry from the Committee earlier this month, the league explained that issues pertaining to the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product doctrine may apply to some of the materials generated by the investigation, including the notorious trove of 650,000 emails that supposedly came solely from items sent to and received by former WFT executive Bruce Allen.

It’s easy to throw around the names of fancy-sounding legal privileges and protections. But mere invocation of the labels doesn’t mean the protections actually apply. Here, attorney Beth Wilkinson initially was hired by the Washington Football Team to conduct the investigation. The NFL eventually commandeered the probe. Who is the “client” in a situation like this, and at what point if any do Wilkinson’s conclusions or recommendations become the kind of legal advice that cannot be invaded? Those are important questions that could potentially show that there are no actual issues of attorney-client privilege involving these materials.

The work-product doctrine is a more slippery concept, arising largely from the notion that documents and reports generated by a lawyer, while not specifically communicating advice to a client, may include mental impressions that should not be revealed. In this case, Wilkinson was instructed not to create a report, which surely would have embodied many different impressions as to the relevant facts and/or the credibility of witnesses. If Wilkinson and/or her staff have generated notes, memos, or other documents that assess whether and to what extent (for example) witnesses are, or aren’t, telling the truth, perhaps the work-product doctrine applies.

That said, neither privilege presumably applies to the  Bruce Allen emails. The NFL already has conceded that these documents fall beyond the scope of the investigation. The question then becomes whether personal or private communications between Allen and others should be fair game. Frankly, they already became fair game for whoever leaked the emails sent by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden. There should be no reasonable expectation of privacy for any emails sent from or to an official Washington Football Team account. Everything should be disclosed to the Committee.

The league is trying to create the general impression that it’s cooperating with Congress while reserving the right to specifically refuse to produce certain things. As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently told Bob Costas, “Certainly in every way does the NFL want to cooperate with anything Congress asks of it there.”

Yes, “in every way.” Except in the way that may entail damaging documents being given to Congress.

In every way. As long as it’s the way we choose.

The push and pull will continue. Ultimately, the question becomes whether Congress simply decides to issue subpoenas and hold hearings.

Although only a fairly small percentage of these investigations conclude with a formal, public process, it’s been obvious for weeks that the league is trying to hide something potentially massive, either as it relates to the Washington Football Team, some other franchise, or the inner workings of the highest levels of the league office.

Already, enough bits and pieces have emerged to take out Gruden and to tarnish longtime NFL general counsel Jeff Pash. If Congress pushes hard enough, further disclosures could lead to more accountability for others who otherwise would like to avoid their reckoning.

32 responses to “Congressional committee contends NFL has “no valid basis” to withhold WFT documents

  1. I can’t think of any reason Congress needs to see a bunch of e-mails sent to or from Bruce Allen. Was he disclosing national security secrets? Planning to commit treason? Or do they just want to dig through them and see if there’s anyone who needs to be publicly shamed for doing something bad (but not illegal)?

  2. Can’t wait to see Dan Snyder testify before Congress lol,. A man can have dreams, can’t he?

  3. I despise all things Dan Snyder, but on what grounds does Congress stand on having the authority to do any of this if there is no allegation of violation of federal law?

  4. Whatever documents are in there are none of my business. The nfl can do whatever they desire with them.

  5. On one hand it sets a bad precedent for a right to privacy, but on the other this is going to be some amazing off-season drama. And it’s hard to feel bad for Dan Snyder

  6. Most people know Dan Snyder is an awful NFL owner and not a very likable person.

    But Congress is whole different level of unlikeable and dis function !!

  7. I’m sure there are hundreds of workplace misconduct cases around the nation each year. What makes this case in need of congressional oversight, rather than simply through the courts?

  8. The NFL is hiding a lot of stuff. They should be investigated, and seeing how we’re all consumers of one of the most powerful organizations in the world, we should definitely know what shady stuff they’re hiding/who they’re protecting.

  9. really congress? you have nothing better to do than investigate the NFL. grandstanding at the highest of levels.

  10. I’d be fine with the NFL not being investigated by congress in exchange for NFL stadiums and properties and owners never receiving another cent of public money.

  11. Congress has zero basis for getting involved themselves instead of doing their job and handling the business of running this country. And to the letter of law they have no right to get involved and or no right to try and force the NFL to release anything.

  12. You think football owners are bad people?? There’s nobody worse then American politicians.

  13. If congress had any legal right to those documents, they would already have them. They’re doing the only thing they can – bluster and an attempt to publicly shame the NFL into compliance

  14. I’m in favor of privacy. However, there is clearly some form of harassment or discrimination that occurred in that work place. Normally Congress wouldn’t care, but the NFL is a multi-billion dollar entity. I don’t think the state judge would be very hard to bribe for Dan Snyder. Congress, a little more difficult. I’m ok with it based on the fact it’s Snyder and these are the circumstances.

  15. Congress gifted the NFL the ability to act as a non profit. It’s what gives the nfl it’s unique power. So yes congress has the right to ask for the emails.

  16. So, if they are an attorney-client privilege, then someone needs to be disbarred for leaking Grudens e-mails. They can’t have it both ways.

  17. The NFL has a congressional anti-trust exemption and if Congress wants to look into the NFL’s business dealings, they have every right to.

    Should the NFL want to keep the gov’t out of the NFL’s business, the billionaire owners are free to voluntarily end their anti-trust exemption and forgo all of the national TV contracts and marketing partnerships that would then become illegal without it.

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