Jury selection begins Monday in a civil trial against a group of protesters who are suing former President Donald Trump and his company over charges of being attacked by security personnel outside Trump Tower in New York in 2015.
The trial will feature testimony from Trump — including his thoughts on the dangers of flying fruit.
Five protesters filed charges against Trump, the Trump Organization and his presidential campaign in 2015 after saying they were rigged outside Trump Tower while protesting then-candidate Trump’s comments about Mexicans.
“It’s been seven long years of lawsuits, but our clients will finally have a chance to present their cases,” a jury lawyer for the protesters, Benjamin Dictor, told NBC News.
Trump sat for a videotaped statement in the October 2021 case, which will be played in court and serve as his trial testimony.
Excerpts released from the impeachment in a lawsuit in April showed Trump under oath denied knowing anything about the… scuffle his guards had with protesters.
That testimony was later refuted by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen during his own videotaped statement. Cohen testified in May that he witnessed Trump ordering his bodyguard Keith Schiller to “evict” the protesters, and that Schiller later returned to Trump’s office with a sign that he had taken from them, court files show.
Like Trump, Cohen will not appear in person at the trial, but lawyers will play his four-hour videotaped statement before the jury as his trial testimony.
In Trump’s statement, he defended comments he made about protesters during demonstrations during his 2016 presidential campaign, including one in which he told those in attendance that “when you see someone ready to throw a tomato, they just knock shit out of their heads, would you?”
“It was very dangerous,” Trump testified when asked about the comments, according to a court filing in April. “They were going to throw fruit,” he said, calling it “very violent stuff.”
“It’s worse than tomato, it’s other things too. But tomato, if they’re going to do that, it’s very dangerous,” Trump said.
At one point, he said the 2016 comment to the public was made “a bit of a joke,” but then added that there might be “a little bit of truth in it. It’s very dangerous stuff. you die.”
The protesters are demanding unspecified monetary damages for what they believe were the “frivolous and malicious attacks and batteries” by his security agents.
Trump defended Schiller in his statement, saying, “He didn’t do anything wrong. He went out — I didn’t know about it. But he went out, he heard there was a malfunction, and he went out. And he took a “50 cent sign it was racist. He sees people dressed as Ku Klux Klansmen or whatever. People were probably complaining.”
Trump attorney Alina Habba has also opposed Cohen’s testimony in a lawsuit, calling him “a former disgruntled Trump Organization employee” with “a long and well-documented disdain for Mr. Trump” who “has made him public. belittled on countless occasions.”
The jury selection is expected to take at least a week as both sides seek jurors who say they can be impartial in a case where the defendant is the controversial former president.
The case is being heard in the Bronx County Supreme Court in New York, about 10 miles north of the Manhattan courthouse, where jury selection is already underway for a criminal trial for tax fraud against the Trump Organization.
The company was charged with taxation last year after a years-long investigation into its financial practices by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The company, which has pleaded not guilty, faces up to $1.6 million in fines and penalties if convicted.
Trump and the Trump Organization were also hit last month by a civil suit by the New York Attorney General’s office, alleging they had overestimated the company’s financial assets by billions of dollars.
The lawsuit aims to impose approximately $250 million in fines and to permanently ban Trump and his three oldest children from serving as officers of New York-based companies.
Trump has dismissed the lawsuit as a politically motivated “witch hunt”.