Tom Arnold Details Alleged Mark Burnett Assault: "Out of His F—ing Mind" (Exclusive)
"He grabbed my windpipe hard. Maybe it was something he learned in the U.K. Special Forces," says the 'Hunt for the Trump Tapes' host of the reality TV megaproducer's "kung-fu grip" during an altercation at a pre-Emmys party.
"First of all, how would I get Mark Burnett to cooperate?" asks Tom Arnold. "And I would never file a police report for something fake. I would never go to a doctor. He genuinely choked me out."'
Arnold, the 59-year-old actor-comedian turned investigative journalist, is speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from the waiting room of a Beverly Hills ear, nose and throat specialist, a flock of paparazzi milling outside. He's been asked the most obvious question first: Was an alleged violent confrontation with reality TV mega-producer Mark Burnett at a pre-Emmys party — the one that had all of Twitter buzzing on Sunday night — merely a promotional stunt for his new Viceland show?
No way, says Arnold. He had not initially planned on attending the Evening Before party, an annual fundraiser bash hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg and benefiting the Motion Picture & Television Fund. But his friend Bryan Fogel — the Oscar-winning director of the 2017 sports-doping doc Icarus — called him on Sunday asking if he'd like to tag along as his plus-one.
It occurred to Arnold that Burnett, 58, would likely be at the event and that things could get awkward. After all, Arnold's Viceland show, The Hunt for the Trump Tapes — premiering Tuesday — is intent on unearthing incriminating footage of Donald Trump, some of it shot on the set of the Burnett-produced The Apprentice. Burnett has long maintained that the Apprentice outtakes are the property of MGM Television, which purchased his firm in December 2015, and therefore legally not his to release.
Nevertheless, Burnett has made little secret of his displeasure with Arnold's show, and his legal team has sent threatening letters to Vice Media over what Burnett deemed to be inaccuracies in Arnold's Twitter feed, sources with knowledge of the correspondences tell THR. According to Arnold, Burnett went further, however, insisting the Apprentice producer made several calls to high-powered figures around Hollywood attempting to have the show killed entirely.
Despite the bad blood, Arnold says he never anticipated that things could get violent at an industry party attended by hundreds of stars and executives. "I thought he’d just blow me off and not speak to me," he says. "People just shun me, which I’m used to."
The trouble began almost as soon as Arnold and Fogel arrived. To enter the party, held outside the Century Plaza Hotel, guests had to mount a stairway. At the top, Arnold, outfitted in black horn-rimmed glasses and a grey checked blazer, spotted Burnett standing with several other people. (One likely would have been Burnett's wife, Roma Downey, who later tweeted a photo of a bruised hand, alleging it was the result of an "ambush" attempt on the couple.)
According to Arnold, Burnett then proceeded to "straighten out and eyeball me." Undeterred, Arnold then ascended the staircase and, he says, quickly got the sense that Burnett was "moving in [his] direction."
"He's getting closer, he's super chesty, he's breathing heavily," Arnold recalls. "Then he bumps into me. I could smell his fucking breath. He's in my fucking face, psycho-eyed. I look at him eyeball-to-eyeball, like, 'Are you fucking kidding me?'"
It was then, he says, that Burnett took Arnold's throat in one hand — what he calls a "kung-fu grip" — and began to choke him. "He grabbed my windpipe hard. Maybe it was something he learned in the U.K. Special Forces." (Burnett served as a parachute commando in the British Army from 1978-1982.)
Arnold calls the maneuver a "sucker choke" for the way it threw him off-balance at the top of a steep staircase. "So I tried to regain my balance," he recalls. "I'm like, 'You better let me get my balance if we're going to fucking fight, you cocksucker. You motherfucker.' And I'm also having trouble getting my wind. All of a sudden I hear one of his buddies say, 'Mark! Don't choke him! Mark! Don't choke!'"
After regaining his footing, Arnold "grabbed some part of his body and wiggled my way up until we squared-up face-to-face. Then they pull us apart. I decide, 'Here's what I’m going to get from this guy: his shirt, his fucking gold chain with Jesus on it, and maybe part of his face or his hair.'"
Arnold then started yelling at Burnett. "I just hammered in on him: 'You fucking crazy, psycho, Trump-fucking bastard!' He had lost it. Did he think he was going to kick me out? 'You’re not getting in,' he told me. I don’t know if he was drunk or what. Did he think he could keep me from walking past him? Did he think he could out-tough me? He had this blank stare on his fucking face like he’s out of his fucking mind."
There were many witnesses, Arnold says, including Kevin Bacon and daughter Sosie Bacon. "Kevin Bacon was shell-shocked," Arnold recalls. "I could tell he was frazzled. He was like, 'I just want you to know Tom, we got your back.' But his daughter was not fazed. She was like, 'We got this.'
"People were stunned," he added.
Arnold did not leave the party. Instead, he mixed with celebrity guests, many of whom backed his anti-Trump TV crusade. "I'm with @Tom Arnold, everyone," tweeted Patton Oswalt from the party. "He's okay. We gotta protect this brutal angel."
Arnold called the Los Angeles Police Department from the event, and an officer instructed him to come to the station the following morning. At 10 a.m. on Monday, just hours before stars would file down the Emmys red carpet, he did, filing a complaint for battery.
"The suspect unprovoked reached out and grabbed the victim by the throat and squeezed his throat," reads the investigative report. "In self-defense, he fought back."
Representatives for Burnett and MGM did not respond to requests for comment.