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Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump reportedly offered money to a U.S. senator to drop his investigation into the Patriots' Spygate scandal in 2008, according to a new ESPN report.

Catch up quick: In 2007, Patriots staffers were caught illegally videotaping Jets defensive signals, sparking an NFL investigation.

  • The investigation resulted in minor penalties (a couple fines and one lost draft pick), and second-year commissioner Roger Goodell ordered the evidence destroyed to put the matter to rest for good.
  • But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a diehard Eagles fan and longtime critic of the NFL, wasn't satisfied with what he felt was a cover-up, so he launched his own investigation.
  • In 2008, Specter spoke on the phone with a friend who also knew Patriots owner Robert Kraft. On the call, the friend told Specter, "If you laid off the Patriots, there'd be a lot of money in Palm Beach."

Driving the news: There was always speculation that friend was Trump, and ESPN has now confirmed as much from two sources — Specter's son, Shanin, and the ghostwriter of two of his memoirs, Charles Robbins.

  • "My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft," Shanin Specter told ESPN. "But I'm equally sure the reference to money in Palm Beach was campaign contributions, not cash."
  • Of note, per ESPN: "Election experts say it's a close call as to whether such an offer would be a bribe in the sense that it would be a prosecutable offense."

The bottom line: Was this phone call between Trump and Specter a last-ditch effort by Kraft to get Specter to drop the investigation, a simple campaign contribution request or something in between?

  • Specter lost his battle with cancer in 2012, so we'll likely never know the full truth. But ESPN's latest report shines new light on one of the strangest scandals in NFL history.
  • For the record: Spokespeople for both Trump and Kraft have denied the report.

Go deeper: Read the full story

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
12 mins ago - Economy & Business

Charted: GOP surged as Biden slumped

Expand chart
Reproduced from Gallup. (Independents were asked their party leaning.) Chart: Axios Visuals

Gallup polling found a huge shift in party preference over the course of 2021, from a 9-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a 5-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.

Why it matters: It's the biggest swing in one calendar year for Gallup's 30 years of tracking.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
32 mins ago - Science

A new NASA astronaut corps for the next era in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA's next crewed missions to the Moon will need a larger, differently-trained and multi-skilled astronaut corps to deliver on the agency's ambitions.

Why it matters: NASA has plans to fly astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2025 and ultimately establish a long-term presence there. That goal requires a robust corps with new, specialized training in what it takes to live and work on the Moon — and NASA needs to start planning now.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.