On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam praised his brother Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who aggressively attacked President Trump for his comments criticizing NFL players who publicly protest the national anthem by kneeling when it is played before the start of a game.
“We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the president or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify,” Jimmy Haslam said in a statement released on Sunday, adding (emphasis added):
We view our organization, our league and our players as great unifiers of people. Our players, just like so many others across our league, have been honest and thoughtful with their attempt to bring awareness to the issues of inequality and social injustice. We were incredibly moved by the meaningful and powerful dialogue they initiated within our organization when they spoke of their intent to unify and not be disrespectful while using familiar and important terms like one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
Jimmy Haslam was one of the most aggressively anti-Trump voices among all 32 of the NFL franchise owners, a group Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon characterized as “crony capitalists” benefiting from a “scam” non-profit status, most of whose stadiums are the recipients of huge taxpayer subsidies, while co-hosting Thursday morning’s edition of the Breitbart News Daily radio program on SiriusXM.
“I have not had that discussion with him,” Gov. Haslam, a Republican, told the Tennessean when asked about his brother’s attack on President Trump, continuing (emphasis added):
But I think you had a lot of owners who felt like, “We have to stand up for our players, our players are expressing their opinions, our players have been called out and even called names, and when our players are called names, we have to show that we’re a unified team here.”
Haslam said on Thursday morning he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) will not be seeking to retain in 2018.
“I think the consensus I hear around me is, players have a right to express their opinions. And fans have a right to decide whether or not they’re going to continue to go to games,” Haslam noted.
In August, State Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), who is a candidate for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District, called on Gov. Haslam to use his influence to stop the NFL players’ protests of the national anthem after Cleveland Brown players knelt during a pre-season game. WKRN reported:
Matheny took to his Facebook page to call the governor to action over the protests.
“Governor Haslam, your family owns the Cleveland Browns. Would you please use your influence to put an immediate stop to the behavior displayed in the NFL last night. These individuals who disrespected our flag and anthem should be returned to normal jobs and help build our community. Their actions only set poor examples for our youth to follow-all this in a time when we need national cohesion worse than ever,” wrote Matheny.
Matheny told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview that Gov. Haslam never responded to his request.
“I have heard nothing from the Haslam family about my request they use their responsibilities as team owners and American citizens to stop the NFL protest,” Matheny told Breitbart News.
“It is deeply disappointing they do not care and have made no attempt to correct the growing wave of disrespecting our flag and anthem that is spreading throughout the NFL and particularly spreading in the Cleveland Browns team Jimmy Haslam owns and Gov. Haslam influences,” Matheny concluded.
Gov. Haslam, like his close ally Sen. Corker, has a long history of publicly criticizing President Trump, who won Tennessee’s 11 electoral college votes in the November 2016 election with a resounding 61 percent to 35 percent victory over Hillary Clinton.
In fact, in October, Haslam was a leading voice among a group of establishment Republicans who called on President Trump to withdraw from the presidential race one month before the election and let Vice President Mike Pence take over during the Billy Bush video tape controversy.
“It is time for the good of the nation and the Republican Party for Donald Trump to step aside and let Gov. Mike Pence assume the role as the party’s nominee. If he does not step aside, I will write in a Republican for the office of President,” Haslam told the Tennessean on October 9, which noted:
Haslam, R-Knoxville, became the first prominent Tennessee Republican to make such a statement when he issued his comments Sunday afternoon. He joins a growing chorus of national Republicans to repudiate their party’s standard bearer in light of a 2005 video where Trump made vulgar comments that appear to condone the sexual assault of women.
“I want to emphasize that character in our leaders does matter. None of us in elected office are perfect, but the decisions that are made in the Oval Office have too many consequences to ignore the behavior we have seen,” Haslam said.
The Haslam family’s billionaire status comes from its ownership of the Pilot Flying J national chain of truck stops, one of the largest privately held companies in the country, which was founded by Jim Haslam, father of Jimmy Haslam and Gov. Bill Haslam, in the 1950s.
The company is at the center of an ongoing FBI investigation of illegal kickbacks.
“In a case dating from 2012, four former Pilot Flying J executives accused of skimming money in a diesel fuel rebate scam have struck a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators,” Truckinginfo.com reported in July (emphasis added):
According to The Washington Post , vice president of sales for the company, John Freeman, who authorities say was the mastermind of the scheme, former regional sales manager John Spiewak, former direct sales group supervisor Vicki Borden, and former sales representative Katy Bibee have all agreed to the plea bargain.
A federal investigation into the fuel scam led to criminal charges against executives at the company, resulting in an $85 million settlement with some of the defrauded customers as well as a $92 million penalty to the government. Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam claims to have had no knowledge of the scheme.
In statement, the company said it was “sadden” by the admission of wrongdoing and noted it has taken steps to “make whole every customer negatively affected” by the scandal and taken steps to make sure such activity never happens again.
First elected as governor in 2010, Haslam was re-elected in 2014. He cannot run for re-election in 2018 because Tennessee governors are term limited to two four-year terms.
Sen. Corker, who announced Tuesday he will not be seeking re-election, one day after Breitbart News reported that he will receive $3 million in payments from Alabama taxpayers from a sweetheart real estate investment deal in Mobile, has publicly encouraged Haslam to consider a run to replace him in the U.S. Senate.
“The governor would be a likely person to at least think about it,” Corker told the Tennessean on Wednesday.
Corker and Haslam have long been close political allies, a friendship the governor confirmed in his comments on Thursday.
“Quite frankly I was hoping and expecting Bob to run,” Haslam told the outlet.
“So I have not spent a whole lot of time thinking about it and being in the United States Senate is not something that I’ve long dreamed about or thought about,” he added.
Former head of the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity Andy Ogles announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination on September 14, two weeks before Corker’s bombshell announcement of his withdrawal.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has said she is considering entering the race for the Republican nomination to replace Corker in the Senate and is expected to announce some time next week. Should Blackburn announce she is in the race, she will immediately become the front runner.