Spygate probe: Did Trump try to intervene? Inside his friendships with Tom Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft
A recent report by ESPN that has quoted a late senator’s son and a ghostwriter has alleged that Donald Trump tried to intervene in a federal inquiry into the 2007 New England Patriots scandal, aka “Spygate”. To stop the investigation, the former president allegedly offered money to Arlen Specter. “If you laid off the Patriots, there'd be a lot of money in Palm Beach,” Trump told Specter, who served as a Senator from Pennsylvania from 1981 to 2011, soon after a 2008 dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Specter’s son Shanin Specter and his ghostwriter Charles Robbins were quoted saying this in the report.
What is the Spygate scandal?
In the late 2000s, the New England Patriots were accused of a scandal, nicknamed 'Spygate'. It was alleged that the team did the unauthorized filming of opposing coaches’ signals in 2007 to increase their chances of victory. A year later, according to the ESPN report, Specter launched a probe into it to find how many games the football team won using the illegal videotaping. The aim of the investigation was also to find the reason behind the destruction of all evidence of fraud by the National Football League (NFL), which was ordered by commissioner Roger Goodell.
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Specter, a lifelong Eagles fan, also sent a letter to Goodell in late 2007 that stated that he was “very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes.” The letter was sent after the NFL ended its probe into the cheating scandal in a jiff by ordering fines of $250,000 to the Patriots and $500,000 to coach Bill Belichick and confiscated the team's first-round pick in the 2008 draft.
The ESPN report said that then on January 20, 2008, Specter and his wife, Joan, were invited to a private dinner at Mar-a-Lago by Trump and his wife Melania. It was the day of the AFC and NFC championship games. A few days after that dinner, an exchange reportedly happened between the 74-year-old Republican and the senator over the phone, when Specter's investigation of Spygate was on almost every newspaper page. Specter once told Robbins, “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'. And I replied, 'I couldn't care less’.”
Specter revealed about that phone conversation in his 2012 book, but did not disclose the name of the “mutual friend”. Robbins told ESPN that he “asked Specter [about the friend], and he said, 'It doesn't matter, let's move on,' and I didn't press it.” But he added, “I was pretty darn sure the offer was made by Trump. At the time, it didn't seem like such an important moment. Back then, Trump was a real-estate hustler and a TV personality.” Besides, at the time, Trump was a political donor and according to Federal Election Commission records, he had also given a $1,000 check to Specter's campaign on August 19, 1983.
“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,” Shanin said of his father. The late senator’s son also claimed he did not understand why his father didn't reveal Trump’s name in his book, as he added, “I'm not sure why he didn't disclose it was Trump in the book. But he liked Trump. They had a warm relationship. So that may explain it. But that, of course, was a different Trump. If my father were in the Senate today, a lot of things would be different.”
Why did Trump allegedly intervene in the Spygate probe?
The ESPN report alleged that there are chances that the “mutual friend” was Trump, who intervened in the Spygate probe as claimed by Shanin and Robbins. The report also delved deeper into the claim to find why the 45th president did that. It noted, “one needs to understand the origins of the nearly 30-year-old friendship between Donald Trump and Robert Kraft [owner of the New England Patriots]. It began in the 1990s, when Kraft and his wife, Myra, bought a place in Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago. Kraft and Trump played golf together, and Trump joined Jon Bon Jovi as regular celebrities at Patriots games during the first half of the team's dynasty.”
Kraft had also frequently spoken highly about Trump. He once said, “Loyalty and friendship trump politics for me. I always remember the people who were good to me in that vulnerable time, and he's in that category.” Also, when Trump became the president in 2017, Kraft said: “For me, it's like having a high school buddy or fraternity brother become president. It's weird, but it's cool.”
Besides Kraft, Trump has also been reportedly close to Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, who once served as a judge for Trump's Miss USA pageant. Brady had once said, “I’ve known him since 2002. I judged one of his beauty pageants. Imagine that, I was a judge at a Miss USA Pageant in 2002. So I’ve known him for a long time.” While Trump had remarked, “Let me tell you if one thing stands out about Tom Brady, it's that he loves those women. And guess what? They love him too.”
Not just that, there was a time when Trump wanted his daughter Ivanka to date Brady. As per his book, ‘Raising Trump’, Trump told the 39-year-old, “You have to meet him!” But Ivanka instead got married to Jared Kushner in 2009 that reportedly upset her father as he reportedly told Kraft that Kushner “is about half the size of Tom Brady's forearm” according to the book ‘Kushner, Inc.’
Speaking about the alleged bribe offer by Trump to his father, Shanin told ESPN, “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.”
Meanwhile, Kraft and Trump, both responding to ESPN through spokespeople, have dismissed the allegations. Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, remarked, “this is completely false. We have no idea what you're talking about.” A Patriots spokesman said, “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.”