Trump's Fascistic, un-American rantings about NFL players kneeling in protest during the playing of the National Anthem are offensive and repugnant. But they're also probably illegal, carrying a possible penalty to Trump of disqualification from public office, fines, and up to 15 years in prison.
There's a specific statute at play, and it's 18 U.S.C. sec. 227. This statute reads:
The first question could be, Is the President covered by this statute? Yes, he is specifically listed as a "covered government person" under (b)(3).
Next, Does the President have the intent to influence an employment decision or employment practice of a private entity? Clearly, he does. The current version of his outrage started when he said, at an Alabama rally in support of his losing candidate, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired.'"
If this sort-of rhetorical question phrasing isn't obvious enough, his subsequent tweets make explicitly clear that he intends to influence the employment decisions and practices of the NFL. He urges flatly, "Fire or suspend!" and "NFL should change policy!"
Next, with that intent, has there been some official act he's taken, influenced, offered or threatened? For a while, that was unclear. Surely when the president presses for an action so strongly and repeatedly, there's some implied threat that he'll use his power to effectuate some official act in response to non-compliance. But any uncertainty vanished on Tuesday when he tweeted a bald threat to impose taxes on the NFL unless they change their employment practices to stop players from kneeling.
So, finally, Trump's guilt would turn on whether Trump is acting on the basis of partisan political affiliation. Some have argued that this must be narrowly interpreted to mean only whether he's trying to influence employment decisions based on whether people are Democrats or Republicans. But there's no reason for this restrictive reading. The general meaning of "partisan" is adherence to a cause, not necessarily a party. It's unclear what an "affiliation" would be in that context anyway; would this require that an affected employee be registered in that party, or vote for that party, or simply tend to vote for that party?
A clearly reasonable interpretation of "partisan political affiliation" would be some affiliation with a political cause, which is the obvious, stated reason for Trump's attacks on the NFL players. This is not a case where a president is calling for the dismissal of a CEO who has been engaged in some malfeasance. He's calling for the punishment, firing, or suspension of people who are expressing a political view, promoting policy changes in our nation. And these views and policies are certainly affiliated with the political movement Black Lives Matter.
That these views and policies are closely, maybe even perfectly, aligned with one of our country's two major political parties could be helpful in this interpretation, but not even necessary.
So, the next step is to wait for Jeff Session's Department of Justice to file charges against Donald Trump. Looking forward to the chants of "Lock him up! Lock him up!"
See also, Shaun King's article Did Trump Break the Law by Telling NFL Owners to Fire Players?