It sounds like Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case against the NFL and U.S. president Donald Trump’s continued public battles with NFL players may soon intersect. According to a report from Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, Kaepernick’s lawyers appear likely to try and subpoena Trump, vice president Mike Pence, and other administration officials:
Kaepernick’s legal team is expected to seek federal subpoenas in the coming weeks to compel testimony from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other officials familiar with the president’s agenda on protesting NFL players, sources with knowledge of the quarterback’s collusion case against the NFL told Yahoo Sports.
The aim will be a dive into the administration’s political involvement with the NFL during Kaepernick’s free agency and the league’s handling of player protests, sources said. This after recent disclosures that multiple owners had direct talks with Trump about players kneeling during the national anthem. The content of those conversations between Trump and owners – as well as any forms of pressure directed at the league by the administration – are expected to shape the requests to force the testimony of Trump, Pence and other affiliated officials, sources said.
As Robinson notes, just because Kaepernick’s lawyers are expected to try this doesn’t mean that it will actually lead to Trump or anyone else testifying in the case. In order to depose anyone outside of the NFL or the NFLPA, they’d have to first convince the system arbitrator overseeing the case that testimony from an outside figure like Trump would be relevant and justifiable. And even if successful there, that would only let them go to federal court to seek those subpoenas, and there would likely be a giant argument over if the president can be subpoenaed in this kind of matter and if that subpoena could be enforced.
That argument’s already going on around special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion with Russia, which hasn’t yet tried a formal subpoena of Trump, but has received arguments from Trump’s lawyers that Trump wouldn’t be bound by one. And that investigation might add to the reasons for Trump to resist testifying in the Kaepernick case (presuming it gets that far) even if he was otherwise willing to; testifying here might raise questions about why he’d do that while declining to testify in response to the Mueller inquiry. So there are plenty of hurdles that this could fall at before it ever leads to testimony from Trump in the Kaepernick case.
But there’s an argument to be made that Trump is quite relevant to this case, as Trump himself has bragged publicly that he’s the reason Kaepernick remains unsigned, and has taken plenty of opportunities to criticize Kaepernick in particular and other NFL players in general. And Trump has plenty of direct connections to NFL owners; those March 2017 comments that he’s why Kaepernick isn’t signed came after a flight with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, and Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross told the media that month that he’d changed his mind on the protests thanks to remarks from Trump. He’s also made it quite clear that he sees criticizing protesting NFL players as a winning political stance, and that he’ll keep doing so even after the league’s changes to the anthem rules.
Whether that’s enough for Kaepernick’s team to clear the significant hurdles in trying to subpoena Trump is debatable. Even if they can convince the arbitrator of Trump’s relevance, getting a subpoena for the president of the United States is far from easy or guaranteed. And even setting aside whether the president can be subpoenaed or not, there might be a case that the head of the executive branch of U.S. government shouldn’t have to spend his time testifying in a dispute between the NFL and one of its former players. But it’s definitely interesting that Kaepernick’s team plans to try this. And even an unsuccessful attempt here will create more conversation about the intersection of Trump’s presidency with the NFL.