Congressional subpoeanas are a tool to hold the powerful accountable — unless they have a boat.
For weeks now, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been trying to depose Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder amid its investigation into how the NFL team handled alleged workplace abuses. At an Oversight roundtable meeting in February, Tiffani Johnston — a former cheerleader and marketing manager — said Snyder had made unwanted sexual advances toward her, including putting his hand on her thigh. Snyder denied the allegation.
On June 22, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified remotely at a hearing that Snyder missed because he was hanging out in France. Since then, Snyder has been touring the Mediterranean on his yacht, the 305-foot Lady S, which he purchased for $100 million. Since he is enjoying the sights of coastal Europe, he has been able to avoid the committee’s plans to hit him with a subpoena, which needs to be served in person. (Lawyers can accept subpoenas on behalf of their clients, but Snyder’s attorney has not extended this courtesy to Congress.)
After weeks of playing the elusive billionaire, Snyder finally agreed yesterday to appear remotely at the committee’s July 28 hearing. But committee chair Carolyn Maloney has rejected that idea: By appearing voluntarily and not under the force of the subpoena, he would not be compelled to answer questions while under oath. In a letter, Maloney wrote, “Mr. Snyder has a troubling history of using NDAs to cover up workplace misconduct —behavior that is central to our investigation — and it would be highly inappropriate for him to employ the same tactic to withhold information from the Committee.”
This isn’t normal behavior, according to Dave Rapallo, a Georgetown professor who served as the staff director for the Oversight Committee. “The norm in D.C. is for attorneys to accept service electronically,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s very rare for an attorney not to accept service of a subpoena over email. I worked on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years and I have never seen anyone intentionally evade a subpoena from Congress in this way.”
So for now, Snyder travels on, enjoying his Mediterranean trip and the world’s only IMAX theater on a yacht. According to the tracker vesselfinder.com, he visited Cannes, Cap d’Antibes, and Corsica in the French Riviera before moving on to Sardinia and the Aeolian islands of Italy. His attorney told the committee he is making his way to Israel to observe the anniversary of his mother’s death and will be at sea until August.
Assuming Snyder wants to come back to see his team play in the NFL season in September, he will eventually have to sit before Congress. The moment he disembarks in this country, U.S. Marshals are expected to serve him with the subpoena.
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