By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are some stories you just don’t expect to wake up to in May of 2021. This right here, this is one of those stories.
It comes from ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, two folks who love to sink their teeth into a little investigative research — especially if it involves the New England Patriots and any allegations of scandalous cheating schemes. What they’ve come up with this time around is particularly juicy, as it involves an alleged bribe-but-not-technically-a-bribe put forth by the man who would become the 45th president of the United States, a certain Donald J. Trump.
Before we share the specific allegation, it should be noted that both Trump and Robert Kraft deny that it ever happened. Van Natta and Wickersham share in the story that a Trump spokesman called it “completely false,” and a Patriots spokesman denied the veracity of what was being reported.
Here’s what was reported: During the late Arlen Specter’s crusade to fight the NFL over its handling — or mishandling — of the Spygate situation, a man approached Specter with a financial offer of some sort to stop pushing against the NFL.
According to the report, that man was Donald Trump. And according to the report, Trump was making the offer on behalf of Robert Kraft.
The report cited Specter’s oldest son as well as Charles Robbins, who was the ghostwriter for two memoirs of Specter. They allege the person who “dangled campaign cash if Specter were to drop the Spygate inquiry was none other than Donald J. Trump.”
“My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft. But I’m equally sure the reference to money in Palm Beach was campaign contributions, not cash. The offer was Kraft assistance with campaign contributions. … My father said it was Kraft’s offer, not someone else’s,” Shanin Specter told ESPN. “He was pissed. He told me about the call in the wake of the conversation and his anger about it. … My father was upset when [such overtures] would happen because he felt as if it were tantamount to a bribe solicitation, though the case law on this subject says it isn’t. … He would tell me these things when they occurred. We were very close.”
Specter, as New Englanders surely remember, went on a bit of a crusade in the wake of the Spygate scandal. Even though the Patriots became the first team to ever have a first-round pick stripped, even though unprecedented fines were placed on Bill Belichick and the organization, and even though the violation only had to do with the location of the cameras and not the filming itself, the Pennsylvania senator was on a quest for vengeance against the NFL. (The Eagles, in a related story, lost a Super Bowl to the Patriots after the 2004 season.)
The suspicion, of course, was not unfounded. The NFL’s decision to literally stomp on videotapes to destroy the footage they had gathered makes it look as though the league was desperately trying to destroy evidence, instead of assuring that the Patriots no longer had the footage obtained through not-fully-legal methods.
Alas, later, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell interviewed former Pats staffer Matt Walsh, he opted to show the footage to a meeting room full of reporters in New York. To say the footage was not sensational or provocative would be an understatement. It was footage of coaches on sidelines sending signals toward the players on the field — a scene that could be spotted by everyone in the stadium when the footage was recorded.
Nevertheless, Specter contemplated calling for official congressional inquiries into the NFL for Spygate. Eventually, he dropped it, He told the Philadelphia News in June 2008 that the Judiciary Committee had “too much to do.”
I mean. I would hope so.
The ESPN story noted that Trump was a longtime contributor to Specter, dating back to 1983. In 2004, “Trump hosted a fundraising luncheon for Sen. Specter at Trump Tower. Trump and Specter stood for photographs with more than 100 people who had written checks for Specter’s reelection campaign.”
So the offer of more campaign contributions in 2008 wouldn’t particularly be out of the ordinary, if not for the alleged caveat of dropping the Spygate fight.
Fascinatingly, the story also details a visit by Specter to Boston in 2010, wherein he asked Kraft for a campaign contribution for his reelection bid in Pennyslvania. Kraft did not give Specter money.
In a football world where seemingly everybody became outraged at the videotaping scandal, Arlen Specter might have been the most outraged. Long after most people had moved on, he kept fighting, despite likely knowing that the United States government did not need to and should not get involved with a football league and some videotapes of coaches on sidelines.
So it’s not particularly surprising to hear such a story emerge. The timing — 13 years later — and the circumstance of Trump becoming president of the country and the Patriots organization being enmeshed in various controversial moments with him sure do make it a rather unique story at this particular moment in time.