Jesse Ventura tears up at trial, tells of commitment to Navy SEALs

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2014 - 11:15 PM

Attorneys say he is incapable of scathing comments toward SEALs.

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Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura made his way back into the Warren E. Burger Federal Building during the first day of jury selection in the defamation lawsuit, Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul, MN.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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His voice choked with emotion, former Gov. Jesse Ventura lost his composure on the witness stand Friday as his attorneys mounted a case that he was so devoted to the Navy SEALs that he’d be incapable of making disparaging remarks like the ones claimed by the late Chris Kyle in his bestselling memoir, “American Sniper.”

Ventura teared up and spoke haltingly about being named Co-Frogman of the Millennium in a cover story of a magazine for veterans of the SEALs’ underwater demolition teams, which Ventura joined as an 18-year-old right out of Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.

“It’s probably the biggest honor in my life,” Ventura said.

“Bigger than being governor?” his attorney David B. Olsen asked.

Yes, Ventura told him.

Ventura said he brought to court four or five boxes containing more than 100 SEAL T-shirts that he has acquired over the years at reunions despite protests from his wife, Terry, who he said asked him, “Haven’t you got enough?”

Olsen held up one of the shirts so the 10-member jury could read the slogan, “Cold, wet, tired and miserable.”

Ventura testified that he insisted his official portrait hanging in the State Capitol building show him with an underwater demolition team pin on the lapel of his suit, and that he has a SEAL insignia tattooed on his chest.

“Do I need to show it, or will opposing counsel believe me?” Ventura asked, looking over at the three lawyers defending against his lawsuit. “Maybe opposing counsel wants to see it.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle answered first.

“You’re not going to show it,” he said.

Judge Kyle, who is unrelated to Chris Kyle, is presiding over the trial of Ventura’s suit, which claims that Chris Kyle defamed him in a three-page account of a barroom fight in which Kyle said he punched Ventura in the face. While the book does not name Ventura, Kyle identified him in interviews promoting the book.

Kyle wrote that he knocked Ventura down after the former governor made loud comments that included a profane remark about President George W. Bush, harsh criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq and an assertion that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few.”

Ventura was attending an underwater team gathering at the Coronado, Calif., bar on Oct. 12, 2006, while Chris Kyle was there for a wake for a SEAL who had been killed in Iraq. Ventura denied Friday that he was involved in any confrontations at the bar and said he was never punched or knocked down.

While some younger SEALs were drinking heavily, Ventura said he hasn’t consumed alcohol since 2002 because of medications he takes and had nothing to drink that night.

He said he arrived at the bar around 8:30 p.m., spoke to many people, posed for photographs and signed autographs.

“If you don’t drink, you don’t close down bars,” he said.

Olsen led Ventura through a series of questions to recount his life story, including growing up two blocks from the Lake Street bridge, setting some Minneapolis high school and district swimming records and serving for four years with the underwater demolition team.

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