For years, former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and some of his high-profile pals have spent summer afternoons opining on the porch at the Chilmark General Store on Martha’s Vineyard.
Not this summer, and maybe never again. As a result of Dershowitz’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate President Trump’s ties to Russia, the coffee klatch has turned combative. In recent days, the clique has been exchanging bitter e-mails that lay bare the anger over Dershowitz’s seeming support for the president, which is a no-no on the Vineyard, a liberal enclave that has great antipathy for Trump.
Responding to an op-ed Dershowitz wrote for The Hill, in which he complained that his island friends were “shunning” him because of his relationship with the president, Walter Teller, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and longtime Vineyard resident, sent Dershowitz and others in their circle an e-mail explaining the sudden estrangement.
The politically charged missive didn’t pull any punches. Teller, whose wife is director Claudia Weill, said Dershowitz had embarrassed himself by so often appearing on television to strenuously oppose the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.
“You thereby gave Trump an opportunity to use you and your positions in his own defense, to wave you like his pom-pom. How unfortunate for all of us,” wrote Teller, a partner in a Beverly Hills law firm. “You defended and gave cover to this president who relentlessly disrupts and destroys all that we value and causes massive and lasting damage to our political system, our courts, our standing in the world, the environment and more. In all of that you are complicit.”
Teller’s e-mail, shared with the Globe by one of the many island residents to whom it was forwarded, also attacked Dershowitz personally, saying he has a quenchless appetite “to be in the public eye, to have a seat at the table, even if the table is at Fox News, Mar-a-Lago, the White House, with Bibi (Netanyahu).”
“You proudly announce where you have dined and with whom, going so far as to send out pictures of the menu of your meal with Trump at the White House,” Teller wrote. “And then you complain publicly when you are not invited to dinner.”
As a defense attorney, Dershowitz has represented many controversial characters, people like televangelist Jim Bakker, socialite Claus von Bulow, and, of course, O.J. Simpson. But it’s been the legal eagle’s words on behalf of Trump that many on Martha’s Vineyard simply can’t stomach.
Though he’s said he voted for Hillary Clinton, Dershowitz has defended Trump on television and let it be known that he’s chatted with Trump about the Middle East at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate last year and about pardons in another conversation.
Dershowitz had predicted the cold shoulder from the Martha’s Vineyard crowd might happen. In March, before the island’s wealthy, well-connected denizens returned to their seaside perches, Dershowitz joked he was on “the Donald Trump diet,” because his left-leaning friends wouldn’t invite him to dinner anymore.
But the e-mails make clear the hard feelings are real, and some friendships may be over. Never silent for long, Dershowitz answered Teller’s missive with one of his own a few hours later. “You admire my stance on civil liberties when it supports your politics, but now that my consistent position may help a president we all oppose, you shun me. Please,” he wrote.
To which Teller groused: “There are times when one needs to act on principal. I believe I am doing that. So do you. So there we are and apparently will remain.”
The back-and-forth was even more barbed between Dershowitz and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and creator of the nonprofit One Laptop per Child. In an e-mail read to the Globe by someone who received it, Negroponte skewered Dershowitz for “aiding and abetting and dining with” Trump, and accused him of being “complicit” with the president.
“Well-known 20th century dictators enjoyed the support of public intellectuals,” wrote Negroponte, who’s Greek-American. “Rather than ruin parties, porches, and beaches, let’s just not talk because there’s no issue to discuss.”
An exasperated Dershowitz pointed out that One Laptop per Child received at least $2.5 million from Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News and a “major Trump facilitator.”
“Please don’t lecture me about complicity,” he wrote.
Since July 4th is the traditional start of the summer party season on Martha’s Vineyard, there will be ample opportunities for the two sides to see each other.
Indeed, reached Tuesday night, Dershowitz was on his way to the annual soiree hosted by designer Kenneth Cole and his wife, Maria Cuomo.
“I was never lamenting or whining about the fact that people are trying to punish me,” he said. “I was exposing it. I stand by my principles. I’m very proud of it. I challenge them to have a conversation with me.”
Mark Shanahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.