DAY IN COURT
Will Trump Have to Testify on Rally Attacks?
With two former supporters turning on the president and claiming he incited them to violence at a campaign rally, lawyers are itching to question Trump under oath.
An elderly veteran and a white nationalist—once vocal and physical supporters of Donald Trump—have put the president in a bit of a legal pickle this week, by filing claims that seem to buttress those of anti-Trump protesters who allege Trump incited violence against them at his rallies.
Both 75-year-old Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association, and 26-year-old Matt Heimbach, a favorite son of the white supremacist movement, allege in separate court filings this week that at a March 2016 rally in Louisville, Kentucky, then-candidate Donald Trump urged and inspired them to forcefully remove anti-Trump protesters.
Bamberger and Heimbach were named as defendants alongside Trump and his campaign in a lawsuit filed last year alleging the two men assaulted a black college student, Kashiya Nwanguma, and two other protesters, Molly Shah, and Henry Brousseau. The suit claims the then-candidate’s calls to “Get ’em outta here!” at the Kentucky rally, and pattern of support for violent ejections at his rallies in general, amounted to inciting violence.
In part at least, Bamberger and Heimbach seem to agree. In separate cross-claims filed with their answers, while disputing the degree of force, Bamberger and Heimbach acknowledge they took part in the removal of Nwanguma—but say if anyone should be held responsible, it’s Trump himself.
Greg Belzley, the attorney for Nwanguma and the other plaintiffs, called the filings “a significant and positive development in our case.”
In his complaint, Bamberger says he “had no prior intention to act as he did,” and “would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s specific urging and inspiration.”
Meanwhile, Heimbach—who is representing himself—argues in his complaint that he “relied on Trump’s authority to order disruptive persons removed,” calling the president and his campaign, “negligent in the exercise of their legal authority.”
The forceful eviction of Nwanguma and several others from the Kentucky rally was caught on tape and went viral quickly. In videos from the event, Heimbach is seen shoving Nwanguma and screaming, “Get out!” as Trump barks from the stage, “Get out!” before waxing nostalgic about “the old days… when we were less politically correct.”
“Today we have to be so nice, so nice, we always have to be so nice,” he told his supporters as Heimbach, Bamberger, and others in “Make America Great Again” hats jostled Nwanguma through the crowd.
Attorneys representing President Trump and Alvin Bamberger did not return emails requesting comment.
Heimbach declined to comment in the case for now, but did tell The Daily Beast that while he no longer backs Trump, he doesn’t regret coming out for his candidate.
“His attack on Syria has ended all my support for him,” Heimbach said. Still, Heimbach continued, “[Trump] polarized America and has opened political space for us. Regardless of Trump and where he goes from here, there is a mobilized and active nationalist movement in America that is organizing and gaining ground.”
Meanwhile, Belzley said the next step in the lawsuit will be discovery—namely, deposing President Trump, a move his lawyers have tried to avoid in this and other pending legal cases including one brought by a former Apprentice contestant alleging sexual assault and defamation.
“We will push aggressively with discovery,” Belzley said. “[Deposing Trump] is key. He is the person whose conduct is clearly an issue. It’s going to be important for him to explain his state of mind when he was saying what he was saying. He’ll need to explain what he knew before he got to Louisville, what his words were inciting, whether he understood what his actions were causing, whether anyone suggested he tone down his rhetoric, and whether he rejected that advice.
“And it should be interesting because in a sworn testimony, he will be sworn to tell the truth. We won’t have to guess what to take literally or figuratively.”
Undoubtedly, Belzley will rely on the well-documented violence and Trump cheerleading at rallies that lead up to the Louisville skirmish. Between January and March of 2016, The Daily Beast counted police-reported criminal activity (including assault, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and disturbing the peace) during at least 12 separate rallies, resulting in 55 arrests or citations, and 12 police reports filed by victims alleging they had been pushed, shoved, punched, called racial slurs, or had their signs ripped from their hands.
At rallies leading up Louisville, Trump seemed to delight in the ratcheting up of clashes between protesters and supporters at his events. In a November 2015 rally in Alabama, Trump shrugged off the assault of one protester, telling supporters, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.” By February, Trump was instructing his gathered masses to “knock the crap out of” any protesters who might throw a tomato and offering to pay any legal bills after the fact. “Would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees,” Trump said. “I promise, I promise.”
Though the case seems destined for a jury at this point—a judge recently rejected Trump’s calls to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds as well as claims that he was directing his orders to security, not attendees—a Trump deposition isn’t assured just yet. Trump’s lawyers are still arguing that executive privilege should shield him from civil lawsuits.
“Mr. Trump is immune from suit because he is President of the United States,” a Friday filing from Trump’s lawyers stated, though they strangely cite the 1997 Supreme Court ruling which allowed Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton to move forward, despite his position.
“This is something that [Trump] did as a private citizen,” Belzley said, dismissing that argument. “The idea that because he won, he is absolved from all sin is a very dangerous precedent and I don’t think even his supporters would be comfortable with that.”
At least two supporters would seem to agree.