The New England Patriots have been well connected with Donald Trump over the years. The former president’s relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has been well documented, from Brady putting a Trump hat in his locker to Belichick writing Trump a letter of support for his campaign in 2016.
It turns out the relationship goes back even further.
ESPN reported Wednesday that Trump tried to help Kraft with the Patriots’ Spygate controversy 14 years ago. The piece alleges that Trump tried to stop the late Arlen Specter from pursuing an investigation into the Patriots signal-stealing controversy.
Specter, a long-time Pennsylvania senator, called for an independent investigation to see how many games the Patriots illegally videotaped. The ESPN story reports that Spector told his ghostwriter, Charles Robbin, that someone contacted him, offering money if he “laid off the Patriots,” but refused to name the person.
Specter’s son, Shanin, however, told ESPN that it was Trump, and that he approached Specter on the behalf of the Patriots owner.
“My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft,” Shanin Specter told ESPN.com. “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.”
Both Trump and Kraft deny the allegations or any involvement in trying to stop Specter’s investigation.
“This is completely false,” Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, told ESPN. “We have no idea what you’re talking about.”
A Patriots spokesperson also told ESPN that Kraft never asked Trump to talk to Spector on his behalf.
“Mr. Kraft is not aware of any involvement of Trump on this topic and he did not have any other engagement with Specter or his staff,” the spokesman told ESPN via email.
In 2007, the NFL ended up taking a first-round draft pick from the Patriots as part of the punishment for Spygate. The team was also fined $250,000 (U.S.) and Belichick was fined $500,000. By 2008, Specter wanted a deeper NFL investigation into the matter and wondered if there was a link to the Patriots scandal and their victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 39.
ESPN reports that Specter and Trump had a friendship and spent time together in Palm Beach, Fla., and Trump called him when the senator started to look into the Patriots controversy. The conversation is written about in Spector’s 2012 book, but Trump isn’t mentioned by name.
Trump’s history with the Patriots came to the forefront during his 2016 presidential campaign. That year, Belichick wrote Trump a letter of support and Trump read it out loud during a campaign rally in New Hampshire. At that time, Brady even had a red “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker. He later explained he started to golf with Trump back in 2002.
Then in 2017, the Patriots visited Trump at the White House following their Super Bowl 51 victory. The team, however, didn’t go back after beating the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. Last year, Trump even appointed Belichick to his Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition for the second time.
Things changed during Trump’s four years as president. In January, Belichick announced he wouldn’t accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump.
Belichick explained that, after violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol, he decided to decline the honour, saying, “One of the most rewarding things in my professional career took place in 2020 when, through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions. Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
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