WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has told aides that he wants his embattled friend, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, to be part of a celebration at the White House of the team’s victory in the Super Bowl, ignoring concerns about Kraft’s recent charges of soliciting prostitution.
Trump has brushed aside worries about any negative effect that Kraft’s presence at an official event could have, according to people close to the president. His desire to have his friend on hand dismayed but did not surprise them, because they said they believe he has recently been inclined to ignore external criticism.
The president’s views were first reported by Politico.
Trump has often chosen to publicly support business allies or friends when they have faced scandal or accusations of impropriety. For instance, he spoke fondly of Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, after he was fired over accusations of sexual harassment.
The charges against Kraft came after police in January used video surveillance to observe activity inside several day spas and massage parlors, including one in Jupiter, Florida. Police said that the parlors had been used for prostitution and that many of the women involved were considered to be victims. Kraft has pleaded not guilty, and has not accepted a deal from prosecutors to drop the two misdemeanor charges in return for completing community service, paying a fine and admitting guilt.
“He’s proclaimed his innocence totally,” Trump has said about Kraft, who has been a friend for many years.
The Patriots have won six Super Bowl titles since 2002, two of them since Trump became president, and the team has visited the White House after each victory. Kraft has accompanied the team on its first five visits.
But in 2017, after the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons for their fifth title, the team’s star quarterback, Tom Brady — along with many of his teammates — chose not to accompany the team to the White House. A total of 34 players attended, which was down from 50 in 2015, when President Barack Obama hosted the team, but similar to the number of players who visited during the second and third visits during the Bush administration.
A team spokesman said one reason fewer players showed up in 2017 is that some veteran players did not see the need to go twice in three years.
The planning for this year’s visit has only just begun. In past years, the team has visited in mid-April, soon after the players report for voluntary workouts. This allows the maximum number of players to attend.
The team proposed four dates to the White House, including April 16. Once a date is agreed on, the Patriots will then determine how many team executives and players can attend.