Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said Monday that while he has dropped two defamation lawsuits over the publication of the best-selling memoir "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle, he cannot disclose the terms of the settlement other than to declare that "the apology is in the bank."
"The settlement is confidential and I can smile," he told reporters, giving them an exaggerated smile.
But he said he felt vindicated by his position that the book contained a fabricated account of a fight between him and Kyle in a Coronado, Calif., bar in 2006. "This was fake news, people, and it was fake news at its finest," he said.
In 2014, Ventura won a $1.35 million verdict against the estate in a U.S. District Court trial in St. Paul but saw it overturned by the 8th Circuit and remanded to district court. The second suit against HarperCollins never went to trial.
A former professional wrestler and sports radio commentator, Ventura was mayor of Brooklyn Park from 1991 to 1995 and was elected governor in a stunning upset in 1998. He currently has a commentary show on Russian Television.
Kyle, a retired Navy SEAL, claimed in his book to have killed more people during the Iraq war than any sniper in U.S. history. It later was made into a Hollywood movie. The book contained an account of an angry altercation between Kyle and a man he identified only as "Scruff Face." In interviews after the book was published, Kyle said Scruff Face was Ventura. Kyle was killed in an unrelated incident in 2013.
The suit came to trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul in 2014. A jury, in an 8-2 decision, agreed that the account of the bar fight was false and awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.35 million for "unjust enrichment" under an obscure Minnesota law.
However, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the law did not apply to defamation cases and threw out the $1.35 million award. On a 2-1 vote, it said the $500,000 defamation award was tainted because U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, no relation to Chris Kyle, had improperly allowed Ventura's attorneys to suggest in court that insurance would cover any payouts the jury might make. The appellate court remanded the defamation part of the case to district court to be retried if Ventura wanted to do so.
Ventura blamed the "corporate media" for pressuring the 8th circuit to overturn the verdict. He said Monday that he had been told by "solid sources" he would not disclose that if he won a second trial in district court, the 8th Circuit would overturn it again. As a result, he said, he decided to settle.
The lawsuit was triggered by Kyle's claim in the book that Ventura upset bar patrons who were attending a wake for a Navy SEAL.
He wrote that Ventura made disparaging remarks about the SEALs, President George W. Bush, and the U.S. prosecution of the Iraq war. When Ventura refused to stop talking about it, Kyle wrote, he punched Ventura, knocking him to the floor, then ran from the bar.
Ventura, a Vietnam War veteran who had been a member of a SEAL underwater demolition team, said the claims were false. While he said he had come to participate in an annual SEAL reunion and had visited the bar that day, he never met Kyle, never made such comments and did not get into a fight with him.
After Kyle's death, Ventura continued the suit against his estate, run by his widow, Taya Kyle. At the defamation trial Ventura said his reputation among SEALs was ruined and he could never again attend a SEAL reunion.
Ventura said that the past five years had been very painful for his wife, Terry. "It's important to get closure," he said. "My wife and I can move on."