POPCORN: Alan Dershowitz’s Libel Lawsuit Against CNN Can Go Forward.

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From today’s decision by Judge Raag Singhal (S.D. Fla.) in Dershowitz v. CNN, Inc.:

In January 2020, Dershowitz represented the President of the United States in an impeachment trial before the United States Senate. This dispute concerns CNN’s coverage of an argument Dershowitz made to the Senate about whether a president can be impeached and removed from office if he takes any action that is motivated by a desire to be reelected. According to the Complaint, Dershowitz gave the following answer to a question by Senator Ted Cruz:

The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were somehow illegal. Now we talk about motive. There are three possible motives that a political figure could have. One, a motive in the public interest and the Israel argument would be in the public interest. The second is in his own political interest and the third, which hasn’t been mentioned, would be his own financial interest, his own pure financial interest, just putting money in the bank. I want to focus on the second one just for one moment. Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest and, mostly you are right, your election is in the public interest, and if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.

Following the day’s impeachment proceedings, CNN aired a clip of this argument that featured only the last sentence and omitted Dershowitz’ words that a quid pro quo would be unlawful if the quo were somehow illegal…. Dershowitz alleges that several CNN commentators responded to the truncated clip and “exploded into a one-sided and false narrative that Professor Dershowitz believes and argued that as long as the President believes his reelection is in the public interest, that he could do anything at all—including illegal acts—and be immune from impeachment.” Dershowitz alleges CNN commentators made the following defamatory statements [Dershowitz identified the underlined portions of these statements as those he alleges are defamatory]:

Having worked on about a dozen campaigns, there is always the sense that, boy, if we win, it’s better for the country. But that doesn’t give you license to commit crimes or to do things that are unethical. So, it was absurd. What I thought when I was watching it was this is un-American. This is what you hear from Stalin. This is what you hear from Mussolini, what you hear from authoritarians, from Hitler, from all the authoritarian people who rationalized, in some cases genocide, based on what was in the public interest.” —Joe Lockhart @ 7:11 p.m., January 29, 2020.

The president’s defense team [Dershowitz] seems to be redefining the powers of the president, redefining them towards infinity.”… [truncated clip played] … “If you look at what he says there it blows your mind. He says if a president is running for re-election because he thinks getting elected will help America, he can do anything, anything. And that redefines the presidency and America.” —John Berman @ 6:17 a.m., January 30, 2020.

I did not go to Harvard Law, but I did go to the University of Texas School of Law, where I studied criminal law and constitutional law, but never dreamed a legendary legal mind would set them both ablaze on the Senate floor. The Dershowitz Doctrine would make presidents immune from every criminal act, so long as they could plausibly claim they did it to boost their re-election effort. Campaign finance laws: out the window. Bribery statutes: gone. Extortion: no more. This is Donald Trump’s fondest figurative dream: to be able to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.” —Paul Begala on CNN.com, January 29, 2020 @ 9:11 p.m.

This narrative, claims Dershowitz, damaged his reputation as a legal scholar and subjected him to ridicule on news outlets, talk shows, and social media….


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