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Dershowitz files $300m libel suit against CNN, saying it twisted his remarks on impeachment

Alan Dershowitz, outside the US Capitol in january.
Alan Dershowitz, outside the US Capitol in january.ERIN SCHAFF/NYT




Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law professor, is seeking $300 million in a federal libel lawsuit against CNN, alleging that the news network attempted to damage his reputation by misrepresenting a statement he made during President Trump’s impeachment trial.

“It was a coordinated smear, done deliberately and with malice aforethought,” Dershowitz said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Dershowitz was one of several attorneys who represented Trump during the Senate trial, which resulted in the president’s acquittal.

The lawsuit, filed in Florida Tuesday, alleges that CNN omitted a crucial part of a widely discussed argument Dershowitz made before the Senate, and then CNN hosts and guests “exploded into a one-sided and false narrative” criticizing Dershowitz.

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CNN representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Jan. 29, in response to a question from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Dershowitz discussed possible motives for a quid pro quo arrangement like the one Trump was accused of making with Ukraine, according to the case filing. Dershowitz said a deal made to help get a politician elected would not be grounds for impeachment if the politician believed their election to be in the public interest, as most politicians do.

But, he also noted as he began his response to Cruz, “The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were somehow illegal,” meaning that a president could be impeached and removed from office if they broke the law, regardless of motive, according to court documents.

CNN repeatedly aired a clip of Dershowitz’s statement that omitted the opening remark, according to the filing, and several hosts and guests on the network said “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,” according to court documents.

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“The very notion of that was preposterous and foolish on its face, and that was the point: to falsely paint Professor Dershowitz as a constitutional scholar and intellectual who had lost his mind,” his attorney, Brian M. Rodier, of Hallandale, Fla., argues in the filing. “With that branding, Professor Dershowitz’s sound and meritorious arguments would then be drowned under a sea of repeated lies.”

In early February the Senate acquitted Trump, though Dershowitz’s argument that the impeachment of a president requires “criminal-like conduct” and that abuse of power doesn’t rise to that level was widely disputed by legal scholars.

Dershowitz said Wednesday that other news outlets, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, had quoted his Jan. 29 remarks before the Senate accurately. But he alleged that CNN made a decision to try “to reduce my credibility as somebody who’d made a strong case against impeachment, because they were in favor of impeachment, obviously.”

“They tried to destroy my credibility as a constitutional expert by having me say something that I would never say, and don’t believe, and isn’t true,” he said. “I believe a president can be impeached if he does a quid pro quo that’s illegal. And I said that over and over and over again in my speech to the Senate.”

Dershowitz said he will prove in court that the decision to discredit him “was done from the very top, that it was not just a decision made for editing by some technician. It was a willful, deliberate decision to try to discredit me.”

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He compared the case to a famous defamation lawsuit against The New Yorker magazine by psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson, who ultimately lost his suit, though a jury found that two quotes in a report on Masson were false, and one of those quotes was defamatory.

“In that case, the Supreme Court held that if you say that a person said something which is the opposite of what he said, and you put it in quotes, that’s defamatory and it’s not protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

Dershowitz said that if he wins and collects the $300 million, “the money, over and above legal fees and expenses, will go to charity. There will be some very happy charities if I win the case.”

“And I think it will be very important to send a message to the media,” he said. “You just can’t destroy people’s reputations by having them say things they didn’t say.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.