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Congress Can’t Even Make A Chump Like Roger Goodell Squirm

Wednesday’s hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, concerned with allegations of workplace sexual misconduct at just about every level of the Washington Commanders organization, was a big dumb mess. Nothing of much value was learned. Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney intends to issue a subpoena for the testimony of Commanders owner Dan Snyder, but God knows whether that will yield anything: Snyder can always call the committee’s bluff and refuse to attend any hearings, and dare them to hold him in contempt of Congress. This extraordinary action would require agreement among a majority of congresspeople, a body that at present you would not expect to agree on the matter of whether the Earth is flat. Snyder, who holds all of humanity in contempt, does not reserve any evident respect for acts of Congress—he spent Wednesday’s hearing, where he was formally invited to give testimony, on a yacht in coastal France.

That doesn’t mean that the hearing was entirely without value, even if most of that value was pure low-brow entertainment. Roger Goodell, who attended via video conference and was the hearing’s sole witness, had to sit there and look stupid while delivering dismal obfuscations and reluctant half-answers. A primary aim of the hearing—granting, reluctantly, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that the United States Congress occasionally at least intends to to achieve anything of substance—was to interrogate how the decision was made by the NFL to conclude a months-long investigation into the toxic environment of Snyder’s football operation with no written report and no documentary evidence whatsoever. Goodell’s explanation—that a limited oral report was the only way to protect the anonymity of the investigation’s witnesses—has never made much sense, and if Congress can’t force the NFL to expel Dan Snyder from its ownership ranks, it should at least be able to compel a blundering lickspittle to articulate for the American public some rationale, however flimsy and sneeringly dishonest, for passing up an all-too-rare opportunity to hold a scumbag billionaire accountable for appalling misbehavior.

On this front the hearing was not really a success, in no small part because very few of the committee members were interested in trying. Those who were had limited time and made limited headway. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois had a nifty chart showing the number of pages of various reports produced by the NFL over the years following major investigations, including an investigation of sexual misconduct in the Miami Dolphins organization, and contrasted those with the vague five pages of press release that stand as the only documentary evidence of an eight-month-long probe into Snyder’s Commanders, one that reportedly included the examination of half a million documents and interviews with dozens of witnesses.

Jamie Raskin of Maryland burrowed in on Goodell’s assertion that the only way to protect the anonymity of witnesses was by eschewing any written report or documentary evidence, which produced a delightfully baffling comment from a man testifying before a body with the authority to investigate the literal CIA: “Congressman, with all due respect, redaction doesn’t always work in my world.”

Late in the hearing, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan urged Goodell to use his authority to push for Snyder’s removal as owner of the Commanders, but her allotted time ended during the exchange. When Maloney offered Goodell the opportunity to answer what in fairness had not really been a question, Goodell grumpily responded with, “I’m good.” Tlaib then sort of hastily and clumsily rephrased her comment as a question—”Will you remove him?”—which is an absolute wheelhouse fastball for a sniveling functionary with a honed knack for weaseling his way out of responsibility. Goodell’s very confident answer, delivered with an almost audible relief: “I don’t have the authority to remove him, Congresswoman.”

The awkward and useless exchange between Tlaib did succeed in capturing the dynamics at play here. Congress of course has no authority to do anything about Dan Snyder running his football team like the world’s scummiest frat house, but it does have the ability to make a big show out of an investigation like this and potentially saddle the league with enough embarrassment at Snyder’s continued ownership that it might eventually move to force him out of the league. To that end, some of the committee’s material findings have helped put Snyder in a hotter seat than he has ever endured before. But man, hearing these people talk and trip over themselves while trying to ask pointed questions—or, in too many cases, while trying to avoid asking pointed questions—really punctures the committee’s image as a serious investigatory body. Do not watch any of these hearings, is what I am saying. Just read whatever gets reported about them in the Washington Post. Better yet, live in a condition of total oblivion. No one can stop you!

Those Republicans who didn’t blow their allotted time thundering about the pointlessness of the hearing—a really splendid microcosm of the conservative approach to government—took turns yanking the hearing into deranged side quests. Jim Jordan of Ohio, for my money the stupidest person in government anywhere on the planet, spent his allotted time grilling Roger Goodell on whether Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had had his constitutional rights violated when Ron Rivera fined him for being dumb on social media, and on whether Dave Portnoy should be considered a sports journalist. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin asked Goodell to use his platform to combat the false woke narrative of institutional racism. Pat Fallon of Texas gleefully forced the committee to sit through an extended bad-faith rehashing of the Deflategate episode, in order to make a point about the hearing being a “clown show.” Every Republican who spoke mentioned gas prices and fentanyl, the latter in the context of it “streaming over the border,” which of course Joe Biden has left unprotected.

So, a lot of meat was left on the bone. The next big opportunity for answers and accountability will come after Maloney issues her subpoena, and on the cold day in hell when Dan Snyder respects it or Congress gets its act together enough to enforce it, and Washington’s owner finally takes the witness stand. Don’t hold your breath.