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Ex-Minnesota governor says TV career halted by sniper's claims

By David Bailey

ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura told a court on Monday his annual income dropped sharply after his reputation was damaged by what he called a fictitious passage in a book by a former Navy SEAL who said the two had gotten in a bar fight.

Seeking unspecified damages for defamation, Ventura testified on Friday that he has not been in a fight since he left the Navy decades before the alleged encounter described by former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," published in early 2012.

Lawyers for Kyle's estate told the court Ventura's income was on the decline before the book due to waning popularity, adding the passage about the bar fight had little impact on the dwindling demand for him as a media personality.

Ventura, who entered politics after a career as a professional wrestler, said in testimony on Monday his career was thriving until the book's publication but afterward work started to dry up.

He said his income averaged about $1 million a year in the prior decade but that it dropped off after Kyle's book came out.

"It came to a screeching halt is the best way I can put it," Ventura said of his entertainment career.

In the book, Kyle described punching a celebrity he identified as "Scruff Face," who he said made disparaging remarks about SEALs. He identified "Scruff Face" as Ventura during interviews supporting the book's release.

Kyle, who was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran, said in a videotaped deposition played for jurors last week he punched Ventura that night, describing the former governor as loud and belligerent.

On Friday, Ventura testified he had no recollection of Kyle.

Ventura, a former member of the Naval Special Forces Underwater Demolition/SEAL teams, sued Kyle in 2012, contending the incident never happened and that the account hurt Ventura financially.

After Chris Kyle's death, Ventura named his wife, Taya Kyle, as defendant in the lawsuit as the overseer of his estate. "American Sniper" has generated more than $2.5 million in royalties split between Kyle, his agent and co-authors.

Ventura, who was Minnesota's governor from 1999 to 2003, has not specified a damages amount in his lawsuit.

The trial began last week and is expected to take about three weeks.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Will Dunham and Steve Orlofsky)

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