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Report: Donald Trump offered senator money to end Patriots Spygate investigation

The New England Patriots' infamous Spygate videotape cheating scandal happened nearly 15 years ago, but apparently there's still more we don't know about it. And the new details are juicy.

According to Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham of ESPN, Donald Trump met with late Sen. Arlen Specter in 2008, nearly a decade before Trump's presidency, and offered him "money in Palm Beach" if he dropped his investigation into Spygate. Trump was reportedly acting on behalf of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. 

Spokespeople for Trump and Kraft denied the allegation that either man tried to influence Specter's investigation. 

"This is completely false," said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump. "We have no idea what you're talking about." Miller declined to answer a series of follow-up questions. A Patriots spokesman said Kraft "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 via email.

The alleged meeting between Trump and Specter

Charles Robbins, Specter's longtime communications aide, told ESPN that Specter first discussed the supposed Spygate money meeting with him in 2010, during a tape-recorded conversation for his final memoir. This exchange appeared in that book, "Life Among the Cannibals."

"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 never revealed the name of the "mutual friend" to Robbins, but he was "pretty darn sure" it was Trump. Trump and Specter were friends, and had been since the early 1980s when Trump first donated to Specter's campaign. Trump would go on to donate over $11,000 to Specter's campaign committees, and referred to Specter as a "close friend" in handwritten notes.

According to ESPN, Donald Trump was acting on behalf of Patriots owner Robert Kraft when he tried to offer Sen. Arlen Specter campaign money if he ended his investigation into Spygate. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
According to ESPN, Donald Trump was acting on behalf of Patriots owner Robert Kraft when he tried to offer Sen. Arlen Specter campaign money if he ended his investigation into Spygate. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
Joshua Roberts / reuters

'Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft'

Despite the denials from Trump and Kraft, Shanin Specter, Arlen Specter's son, told ESPN that he got the story directly from his father. 

"My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft," Shanin Specter says via ESPN. "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."

Trump and Kraft were once close friends, with Kraft attending Trump's wedding to Melania in 2005 and Trump attending the funeral of Kraft's wife, Myra, in 2011. Trump even reportedly called Kraft every week for a year after his wife died, just to check in on him. According to ESPN, both men disapproved of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the Spygate investigation.

Specter says that his father told him about the meeting soon after it happened. 

"He was pissed," Shanin Specter says about his father. "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."

Offer of money didn't impact investigation

Specter turned down the offer of "money in Palm Beach" (which is not illegal if referring to campaign contributions) and continued his pursuit of the truth he felt Goodell was hiding. Specter was furious that Goodell had the evidence — actual Spygate video tapes — destroyed, and even though his investigation was a one-man crusade that lacked subpoena power, his strong rhetoric scared the NFL. 

Goodell was so scared of Specter's investigation — which could have led to a wider probe with subpoena powers — that he convinced the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz to release statements saying that the NFL had done its "due diligence." None of those parties reportedly felt that was true, and Martz told ESPN that the statement he wrote was heavily edited by the NFL before its release.

Despite Goodell's fear, the NFL still had the power to stonewall Specter, and prevented him from obtaining any documents or interviewing any employees of the NFL or the Patriots. Nearing 80 years old and undergoing chemotherapy to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Specter, who died in 2012, ended the investigation himself in June 2008 having failed to get his fellow senators on board for a larger probe.

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