Attorneys representing Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz in his defamation lawsuit against CNN asked a federal judge in Florida on Monday to allow the case to continue, claiming that the network’s commentators intentionally lied about what the famed criminal defense attorney argued while defending the president during impeachment proceedings earlier this year. Dershowitz supported his position with references to right-wing stalwarts Sarah Palin and Project Veritas.
The allegations stem from CNN’s coverage of Dershowitz defending Donald Trump for withholding congressionally-approved military aid from Ukraine in an effort to have the Ukrainian president announce a series of politically advantageous investigations into Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Dershowitz argued that a sitting president may engage in a quid pro quo arrangement with a foreign leader—provided that the exchange is done with the intent of winning re-election in the public interest and not in violation of some law. While his theory was widely panned by attorneys and legal experts across the media landscape, Dershowitz claimed that CNN’s coverage intentionally omitted portions of his argument to make it appear as though he was arguing “the exact opposite of what he said.”
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and mostly you’re 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,” Dershowitz asserted in January.
CNN last month filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying its commentators were expressing opinions and asserting that its coverage was privileged under the Fair Report Privilege.
Dershowitz responded Monday, arguing that nixing the suit prior to discovery would be a mistake, comparing the circumstances before the court to former Alaska Gov. Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times. That case was dismissed by a federal judge in New York before the Second Circuit reinstate her cause of action last year. In Aug. 2020, the judge set a trial date.
“CNN would like to skip the entire discovery process and trial and is essentially making a pitch for this Court to be the jury and decide the case on the merits right away,” the motion stated. “It appears that notwithstanding the recently decided Palin v. N.Y. Times Co., CNN would like to induce this Court to make the same error that led to the district judge’s reversal in Palin. The problem with CNN’s logic is that Florida and federal law do not allow it to ignore the clear fact that plaintiff’s complaint states a valid cause of action.”
Dershowitz further argued that the CNN thrashing of his impeachment argument evinced a “coordinated effort to smear plaintiff,” asserting such a plan would be confirmed once he obtains programming notes, emails, and depositions.
In attempting to buttress the claim that CNN knowingly and intentionally maligned him, Dershowitz cited to a series of edited videos released by James O’Keefe’s right-wing organization Project Veritas which heavily featured CNN President Jeff Zucker.
“Zucker is heard directing CNN broadcasters, as one of many examples, to go after Senator Lindsay [sic] Graham ‘because he deserves it,’” a footnote in the filing stated. “While those leaked tapes do not mention plaintiff, this new revelation does support the plausibility of plaintiff’s claim that the smear campaign against him was part of a coordinated vendetta by the CNN management.”
Zucker’s comments were apparently in reference to Sen. Graham allegedly pressuring Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to exclude legal absentee ballots in an effort to help President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Dershowitz also called out CNN anchors by name.
“And how about John Berman? He is a Harvard University graduate and the anchor of CNN New Day. He is also the former writer for Peter Jennings and was a White House correspondent. In fact, he is so smart that he was a champion on Jeopardy with Alex Trebek,” the filing went on. “Is it plausible that a jury will conclude that he knew Dershowitz had said ‘the only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were somehow illegal,’ but nonetheless told his audience that Professor Dershowitz said that a president ‘can do anything, anything?’”
Read the full filing below:
[image via Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]