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Former Gov. Jesse Ventura made his way out of the Warren E. Burger Federal Building during the first day of his defamation trial, Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Ventura’s past bombast cited in book defamation trial

  • Article by: Randy Furst
  • Star Tribune
  • July 11, 2014 - 6:02 AM

The legal team fighting Jesse Ventura’s defamation lawsuit opened up a new line of attack Thursday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, reeling off a series of provocative public statements Ventura has made.

It appeared to catch a witness for the former governor off guard.

Ventura has called the United States “a fascist” country, said Navy SEALs are part of “illegal gangland operations” and said he no longer would salute the U.S. flag, said Leita Walker, an attorney for the estate of Chris Kyle.

Kyle, a decorated Navy SEAL who was killed in 2013, claimed in his 2012 memoir, “American Sniper,” that he punched a celebrity he called “Scruff Face” in a bar in Coronado, Calif., where he was attending a SEAL reunion and where a wake was also in progress for a SEAL killed in Iraq. Kyle wrote that he struck the man in the face, knocking him down, after he made hostile statements about U.S. policy toward the war in Iraq and former President George W. Bush as well as saying that Navy SEALs “deserved to lose a few.”

Kyle later identified “Scruff Face” as Ventura.

Ventura has sued, saying Kyle’s account is a complete fabrication. Kyle testified in a video deposition, given before his death at a Texas shooting range and shown Wednesday and Thursday to the 10-member jury, that his account was truthful.

Walker, a lawyer for Taya Kyle, who oversees her husband’s estate, sought to show Thursday that given his past provocative statements, Ventura was capable of making the disparaging comments cited in Chris Kyle’s book.

Tough questions for pal

Walker did it with tough questions put to Bill DeWitt, a friend of Ventura’s who was put on the stand by Ventura’s lawyers to make the case that Kyle’s account of the barroom fight was fiction.

DeWitt testified he was in McP’s Irish Pub on Oct. 12, 2006, the night of the alleged incident, attending a reunion of the underwater demolition team class to which he and Ventura had belonged. DeWitt said he never saw the altercation nor heard Ventura make the remark that some SEALs deserve to die. Had he made such remarks, DeWitt said, he would have gotten up to talk to Ventura about it.

Walker cross-examined DeWitt, noting that Ventura had “built a brand of being a little outrageous.”

“Would you agree with Mr. Ventura who said the SEALs are elite killer squads?” she asked him. DeWitt first declined to answer, saying it was classified information, but, after being ordered to do so by Judge Richard H. Kyle, said SEALs have been tied to an assassination program.

She then asked DeWitt if he was aware that Ventura said the SEALs “are part of illegal gangland operations.” She asked what he thought about a statement Ventura made at a news conference that the United States was “a fascist country.”

DeWitt, apparently taken aback, asked, “What’s your definition of fascist?”

Walker did not answer, instead asking DeWitt if he was aware that Ventura had stated that he “doesn’t respect our country,” that he was going to “refuse to salute the flag” and had lost his patriotism, and that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the Bush administration.

Under redirect questioning of DeWitt, Ventura lead attorney David B. Olsen played down Ventura’s remarks, noting that he was working on his conspiracy TV show at the time.

Walker also suggested that DeWitt might not have known what happened at McP’s since the bar was crowded that night and he couldn’t hear what Ventura was saying.

However, DeWitt’s wife, Charlene, who testified next, said she sat near Ventura throughout the evening and never saw a fight. She said she did hear Ventura say about Iraq: “I don’t think this war is worth one SEAL dying for.”

Asked by Walker if she thought young SEALs at the bar might find it offensive, Charlene DeWitt responded, “I thought it expressed love for Navy SEALs.”

Ventura’s lawsuit centers on three pages in “American Sniper” in which Kyle says he punched “Scruff Face.”

Tying claim to book success

Olsen sought to show in court Thursday that Kyle’s book climbed to the top of the bestseller lists after it was published in January 2012 because Kyle gave a series of interviews on a book tour that month, revealing that “Scruff Face” was Ventura.

Kyle first made that claim on the “Opie and Anthony” show on Sirius XM radio after a caller asked if it was Ventura. Kyle further elaborated on the alleged fight when questioned the next day by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel.

In the video deposition of Chris Kyle, Olsen had him identify a series of e-mails in which representatives of the book’s publisher, HarperCollins, expressed delight over how the news about the Ventura fight was causing book sales to soar.

In the deposition, Kyle testified that he was shocked the Ventura incident was causing so much attention and wanted the publisher to shift the publicity away from Ventura to other aspects of the book.

Ventura’s attorneys contend that his reputation was badly damaged by the bar fight publicity and has cost him job offers.

He could take the stand Friday afternoon or early next week. Ventura’s son, Tyrel, is expected to testify Friday.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

twitter: @randyfurst

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