In this Dec. 31, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington. Credit: Evan Vucci / AP

The son of late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and a ghostwriter for the Pennsylvania lawmaker claim former President Donald Trump offered Specter campaign cash in 2008 to stop his probe of the Spygate scandal, according to an ESPN report.

Through spokespeople, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Trump denied any effort to affect Specter’s investigation.

“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,” a Patriots spokesman wrote to ESPN via email. A Patriots spokesperson declined to offer further comment to the Herald today.

“This is completely false,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told ESPN. “We have no idea what you’re talking about.”

In 2008, Specter had called for an independent investigator to determine how many games the Patriots had illegally videotaped, how deeply the videotaping of opposing coaches’ signals affected the integrity of their games, and why the NFL had destroyed all evidence after concluding its own investigation. He was outraged by how the league and the Patriots had “stonewalled” his own inquiry.

Specter was a longtime fan and critic of the league and previously threatened to file legislation that would end the NFL’s antitrust exemption.

In fall 2007, he wrote two letters to commissioner Roger Goodell, whose own investigation into the Patriots’ illegal videotaping concluded after just four days, the ESPN story states. Goodell had fined the Patriots $250,000, coach Bill Belichick $500,000, and docked the franchise a first-round draft pick. Goodell did not respond to either letter, per ESPN.

Specter, then the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, increased his pressure on the league. It was possible players, coaches and executives could be subpoenaed. Patriots employees had declined to speak with him.

In early 2008, ESPN reported a friend of Patriots owner Robert Kraft called to intervene: Donald Trump.

Trump had contributed to Specter’s campaign committees over decades, often donating the maximum amount, per ESPN. The story goes on to state Specter and Trump were friends and had dined in Palm Beach, Florida, shortly before Trump called, allegedly saying: “If you laid off the Patriots, there’d be a lot of money in Palm Beach.”

Shanin Specter, Arlen’s son and a Philadelphia attorney, told ESPN he remembers speaking with his late father immediately after the call.

“My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft,” Shanin Specter said. “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 continued, according to the story: “He was pissed. … 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 did not report Trump’s offer to the Senate ethics officials after determining the offer did not constitute a bribe solicitation, according to case law. Election experts told ESPN it would be difficult to prosecute the offer as a bribe. One Republican election attorney stated flatly: “You can’t walk up to a U.S. senator and say my friend has a big bag of cash for you, even if it’s campaign money, if you would drop your investigation. That’s a bribe.”

The encounter is described in Specter’s 2012 book ghostwritten by former communications aide Charles Robbins, though Trump is not mentioned by name. Robbins spoke to ESPN on two different occasions.

“I asked Specter, and he said, ‘It doesn’t matter, let’s move on,’ and I didn’t press it.” Robbins told ESPN. But in the end, it didn’t really matter, Robbins now says: “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.”

Sen. Specter later met with Kraft in March 2010 to ask for funds for his reelection campaign. According to ESPN, records show neither Kraft nor the Kraft Group ever donated to Specter’s campaign committees. Trump’s last donation was for $1,300 in March of 2008.

Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald