Former President Donald Trump denied under oath knowing anything about a scuffle his security guards had with protesters outside Trump Tower in 2015, but his former lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump ordered the confrontation, according to newly filed court papers.
In a deposition in October, parts of which were made public for the first time in a court filing Tuesday night, Trump said he "didn't know about" the altercation between his bodyguard Keith Schiller and a group of protesters until the day after it happened.
Trump defended Schiller's actions, according to the transcript.
"He did nothing wrong. He went out — I didn't know about it. But he went out, he heard there was a disturbance, and he went out. And he took a 50 cent sign down that was racist. He sees people dressed as Ku Klux Klansmen or whatever. People were probably complaining," Trump said.
After Schiller grabbed the protester’s sign, "he was attacked from behind, and they tried to get his gun," Trump said. "I don’t even know if he was carrying a gun. But if he was, they were obviously trying to get it."
The demonstrators are suing Trump and his company for damages from what they claim were his security officers’ “wanton and malicious assaults and batteries.” The case was scheduled to go to trial in Supreme Court in the Bronx next month. Supreme Court is the name of New York state's top trial court.
Trump's attorneys sought to delay the trial date after a new witness came forward with evidence that is potentially helpful to the protesters — Cohen, Trump's former lawyer.
In a court filing Tuesday, the protesters' lawyer, Benjamin Dictor, said Cohen reached out to him after Trump's deposition and told him he was with Trump, then a presidential candidate, in his office when Schiller told Trump about the protest outside the building. Trump then told Schiller to "get rid of" the protesters, and Schiller later returned to Trump's office with the sign he had taken from them, the filing said.
"Mr. Cohen’s description of the events that he observed on September 3, 2015 is not only additional direct proof of Trump’s control and management of his security personnel, it also directly contradicts and would therefore serve as rebuttal to the testimony of defendants Trump and Schiller," the filing says.
Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In court filings this month, she accused Dictor of "trial by ambush" for trying to add what she called the "surprise" witness before trial.
"It is highly suspect that Mr. Cohen chose to wait over six years since the filing of plaintiff’s complaint to volunteer to testify on the plaintiffs’ behalf," her filing says, calling Cohen "a former disgruntled employee of the Trump Organization" with "a long and well-documented disdain for Mr. Trump" who "has publicly disparaged him on countless occasions."
Cohen said in a statement to NBC News that Habba “has learned quickly from Donald the art of deflection and denigration.”
“Truth is truth,” he said.
Cohen was sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison for what a federal judge in Manhattan called a “veritable smorgasbord” of criminal conduct, including facilitating secret payments to women who claimed they had had affairs with Trump and lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia.
He has since cooperated with investigations into Trump's business practices by the New York attorney general's office and the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Dictor’s court filings say Cohen, who didn’t respond to an earlier subpoena from the Trump camp, has agreed to be deposed by both sides on May 17, potentially clearing the way for the trial to begin in June.
The deposition excerpts in the court filing also show Trump defending comments he had made about protesters during his 2016 presidential campaign, including a rally where he told attendees that "if you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, just knock the crap out of them, would you?"
"It was very dangerous," Trump told Dictor. "We were threatened. ... They were going to throw fruit," he said, calling it "very violent stuff."
"It's worse than tomato, it's other things also. But tomato, when they start doing that stuff, it's very dangerous. There was an alert out that day."
He then said the 2016 remark to the crowd was made "sort of in jest," adding: "But maybe, you know, a little truth to it. It's very dangerous stuff. You can get killed with those things."