Donald Trump has revealed in sworn testimony that he hired Matthew Calamari, a senior executive in the Trump Organization at the time an activist alleges he was roughed up by Trump’s security team, as a bodyguard after seeing him demonstrate “bravery” in a fight at a tennis competition.
Trump discussed Calamari in a deposition for a civil lawsuit brought by Efrain Galicia, the activist who alleged the incident occurred while he was protesting outside Trump Tower in 2015.
Calamari, who was later investigated in an unrelated tax fraud inquiry and who was hired as Trump’s bodyguard before climbing the ranks to an executive position, is not being sued personally but was deposed as he oversaw security in his corporate role at the time of the alleged attack.
Calamari’s attorney, Nicholas Gravante, told the Guardian that the Manhattan district attorney would not be bringing charges against his client. Gravante said Calamari had “done absolutely nothing wrong”.
Trump, however, is named as a defendant. The lawsuit alleges that Trump, his business, his campaign and his security team “undertook these wrongful acts by common agreement”. He was ordered to provide the deposition in October of last year.
Trump also said in the deposition that tomatoes could be lethal when thrown at people, in response to questions about his telling the audience at a rally in February 2016: “If you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, just knock the crap out of them.”
Galicia’s case is one of many legal challenges Trump faces. This week, he was held in contempt for failing to disclose documents in the civil investigation by Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, into whether the Trump Organization misstated the values of its real estate properties to obtain favorable loans and tax deductions . The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has also insisted that his office’s investigation concerning Trump and the Trump Organization is proceeding, despite several high-profile resignations over inaction. In July 2021, the Trump Organization and its former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were charged for an alleged “sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme”.
CNN reported in November that Manhattan prosecutors did not intend to charge Calamari, at least for the time being, but Trump’s comments provide another glimpse into the former president’s unorthodox involvement in personnel matters.
Trump said in his deposition that he had hired Calamari about 40 years ago after seeing him take down hecklers at a tennis match.
“They had to stop the match because people up in the top of the stadium were screaming bad things,” Trump said. “And the other security guards weren’t doing anything about it.
“And Matt went up and the whole stadium was watching. And he spoke to the people, but they were screaming and they were really out of line,” Trump continued.
“And I guess they made the first move. But they went after him. And he went after them. And whatever had happened, he ended up on top.
“And the stadium was impressed because it was a certain brave, you know, there was a certain bravery there,” Trump said. “It wasn’t a big fight. It was not a real big fight. It was just, you know, he got them – and he got them to either calm down or I think he took them out. I think he took them out of the stadium.”
Trump also said that he was responsible for promoting Calamari from security to corporate management and had “authority” over his compensation.
Galicia’s lawyers also asked Trump about his statement to attendees to “knock the crap out of” anyone getting ready to throw a tomato at the 2016 rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It was very dangerous,” Trump said.
“They were going to throw fruit. We were threatened, we had a threat.”
He added: “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.
“It was said sort of in jest,” he added of his tomato comment. “But maybe, you know, a little truth to it. It’s very dangerous stuff. You can get killed with those things.” Trump also described pineapples and bananas as “dangerous stuff”.
Trump also defended Keith Schiller, his head of security at the time, for actions during the protest. Galicia alleviates that Schiller punched him. “He did nothing wrong,” Trump said of Schiller.
Trump’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the deposition.
Gravante disputed the depiction of events at the 1981 US Open as a “fight”. Calamari, then a college football player, had been hired for a temporary security position through his coach. One day at the tournament, Calamari was asked to remove disorderly fans from the venue, as their jeers had interrupted the match.
They didn’t come voluntarily, so Calamari “had to actually tackle him and carry him out of the stadium, to a standing ovation by everyone in that stadium who saw what was happening, and then the match could resume”, Gravante said.
Because Calamari handled the situation “so perfectly”, he was honored among the “unsung heroes” of the US Open during a ceremony in 1982. At that point, Trump asked the US Open’s head of security for the athlete’s phone number and whether the athlete wanted a job, ultimately leading to Calamari’s hiring.
Gravante said that if Trump described the events with fight-centered language, it was not “an accurate characterization of what happened at the US Open that day”.