Donald Trump allegedly attempted to stop a congressional probe of the Spygate case involving the New England Patriots by offering a bribe to then-Sen. Arlen Specter.
An ESPN report detailed how Trump, nearly a decade before he became president, allegedly acted on behalf of Patriots owner Robert Kraft when he met with Specter in 2008 to offer him “a lot of money in Palm Beach” if the then-Republican senator from Pennsylvania dropped his investigation into the team.
Shanin Specter, the senator’s son, said to ESPN that Trump intervened in the probe.
Shanin Specter told The Washington Post that his father, who died in 2012, explicitly indicated to him that Trump had attempted to bribe the senator, then the ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in exchange for dropping the investigation of the Patriots illegally filming an opponent’s hand signals.
“He told me it was Trump,” said Specter, a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney in Philadelphia.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller denied the allegations.
A team spokesman told ESPN that Kraft, a longtime friend of Trump’s, “never asked Donald Trump to talk to Arlen Specter 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 said to the outlet.
The news comes one day after Manhattan’s district attorney convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges.
As The Post reported Tuesday, convening the grand jury shows that District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has hit an advanced stage after more than two years.
The development also suggests that Vance thinks he has found evidence of a crime — if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company.
The Patriots were found by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to have violated league rules when they videotaped the defensive coaches for the New York Jets from an unauthorized location in 2007.
The franchise was stripped of its first-round draft pick and fined $250,000 by the league.
Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the largest amount ever handed down to an NFL coach.
The league’s relatively fast investigation raised concern from Specter, who wrote letters to Goodell to let him know he still had questions.
Specter made headlines when he announced his intentions to investigate Spygate on his own.
“The NFL has a very preferred status in our country with their antitrust exemption,” Specter said to the New York Times in February 2008. “The American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game.”
Even though his intentions lacked subpoena power, Specter’s focus on the case shook the NFL, ESPN reported.
Robbins, who co-authored Specter’s memoir “Life Among the Cannibals,” documented a dinner in early 2008 that the senator had with a friend in Palm Beach “at his palatial club,” according to ESPN.
The topic of Spygate came up, as did Specter’s one-man investigation.
“On the signal stealing, a mutual friend had told me that ‘if I laid off the Patriots, there’d be a lot of money in Palm Beach,’” Specter wrote in the 2012 memoir. “And I replied, ‘I couldn’t care less.’”
Robbins said he surmised the person in question to be Trump after recognizing that the senator only knew one or two people powerful enough in Florida to make such a statement.
Shanin Specter said that he spoke to his father within days of the conversation with Trump, adding that the senator explicitly told him it was the real estate mogul and reality TV star.
“He was still pissed, and he wanted to talk about it,” Specter said.
To that point, Trump and Arlen Specter had a friendly relationship.
Federal Election Commission records show that Trump contributed more than $11,000 to the campaign committees of a person he called a “close friend” in handwritten letters, according to ESPN.
In 2004, Trump hosted a fundraising luncheon for Specter at Trump Tower, the Morning Call reported at the time.
Specter was being challenged in the Republican primary that year by conservative congressman Patrick Toomey.
“This guy is a great character,” Trump said of Specter. “Arlen is quite simply a friend of mine. He’s just someone I like.” The paper noted that Trump then glanced at Specter before adding, “I don’t know if that helps you or hurts you.”
But Shanin Specter said to ESPN the mood changed following the meeting in 2008.
“My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft,” he told the outlet. “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.”
Around that same time, Trump reportedly co-hosted a party for the release of one of Specter’s books, “Never Give In.”
Not long afterward, Trump wrote in March 2008 what would be the last campaign check to Specter for $1,300, ESPN reported.
In a speech on the Senate floor in June 2008, Specter offered his final word on the probe and defended himself against criticism.
He also called for an “impartial investigation.”
“The publicity in exposing Belichick and the Patriots’ conduct has been a far greater punishment than dollars and draft choices,” he said. “History will impose the final judgment on the penalty for Belichick and the Patriots.”
Trump’s relationship with the NFL took a turn when he became president, as he often criticized Colin Kaepernick and other players who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racism.
He was, however, welcoming of the Patriots to the White House in 2017 and regularly tweeted his support for Kraft, Belichick and legendary quarterback Tom Brady.
The article originally appeared on ESPN.