By Lewis Gould

President Trump is well-known for dousing a controversy with gasoline — even a made up one.

Last week he strongly implied that NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem “maybe don’t belong” in this country.

Even though the handful of players who have taken a knee have done so to protest police brutality of African-Americans, not to denigrate the flag or the national anthem.

Which is their right under something called the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution!

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports:

Attorney Mark Geragos suggested in a Thursday tweet that efforts of the top two members of the executive branch to pressure the NFL to force players to stand for the anthem potentially run afoul of Title 18, Section 227 of the United States Code. 

A violation of 18 U.S.C. 227 arises if the President and/or the Vice President intended “to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity” and “influence[d], or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another.”

A clear example of a prohibited action under 18 U.S.C. 227 would arise if, for example, the President pressures a news outlet to fire a reporter who asks too many tough questions, under threat of revoking access. While more murky as it relates to the NFL, it seems fairly clear that the President and/or the Vice President have pressured (successfully) the NFL to remove the pre-existing right of its players to protest during the national anthem.

It feels too simple to be applicable, but the language is as plain as it can be. And the punishment feels too harsh, with imprisonment of up to 15 years and potential disqualification from holding office.

But the law contains a bright line that potentially may have been crossed. The NFL is a private employer. The President and/or the Vice President successfully pressured the NFL to change its anthem policy to remove the right of players of protest during the anthem, which  amounts to an employment practice.

At a time when far more complex and convoluted facts are being considered by prosecutors for potential criminal actions by the President and those close to him, maybe there’s silver bullet is hiding in plain sight — one that could knock both the President and the Vice President out of office.

It’s unlikely that the dominoes would fall this way, but the law says what it says. If there’s a prosecutor who is willing to attempt to enforce it, who knows what might happen?