Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against CNN, claiming the cable news network, together with their hosts and panelists, intentionally created a false narrative about what the famed criminal defense attorney argued while defending the president during impeachment proceedings earlier this year.
Dershowitz’s allegations stem from news coverage of his argument about the kind of quid pro quos a sitting president may engage in while office—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, Dershowitz claimed that CNN intentionally omitted portions of his argument to make it appear as though he was arguing “the exact opposite of what he said.”
The specific exchange at the crux of the controversy came when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked Dershowitz if it mattered whether there was a quid pro quo arrangement in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the ‘quo’ were in some way illegal,” Dershowitz responded, saying there were “three possible motives” a political figure could have for their conduct: a motive in the public interest, a motive in his own political interest, and a motive in his own financial interest.
Focusing on the “public interest” motive, Dershowitz 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.”
In his lawsuit, Dershowitz claims that CNN only aired him saying the latter sentence to promulgate “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.”
“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,” the lawsuit said. “With that branding, Professor Dershowitz’s sound and meritorious arguments would then be drowned under a sea of repeated lies.”
Left out of the filed complaint, however, are Dershowitz’s comments from moments later, where he said that a president’s decision can only be considered an impeachable offense if the decision is made “solely” for corrupt purposes.
“[F]or it to be impeachable, you would have to discern that he or she made a decision solely on the basis […] of corrupt motives,” he said.
By this logic, if an impeachable offense requires a president be motivated exclusively by corrupt motives, it follows that a decision based only in part on corrupt motives is not impeachable.
Dershowitz argued that if the network had played his full comments, no one on the network would have even considered criticizing his argument.
“In fact, no panel guest would have even considered embarrassing himself or herself on national television with their false conclusions had the video clip properly included the part where Professor Dershowitz unequivocally and unambiguously stated that an illegal act would prevent a quid pro quo from being lawful,” the lawsuit stated. “The phrase that included the word ‘illegal’ was an essential part of his argument, and that is precisely why CNN decided to omit it. It is evident that the decision to omit the portion in question was no accident or simple negligence on the part of CNN.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, did say that it “appears” Dershowitz “made one mistake”:
However, Professor Dershowitz appears to have made one mistake. He chose to defend the President of the United States and defend the U.S. Constitution at moment in time where CNN has decided that doing so is not permitted. For this, CNN set out to punish him and destroy his credibility and reputation, and unfortunately, succeeded.
In relief, Dershowitz is seeking $50,000,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000,000 in punitive damages for a total of $300,000,000. Dershowitz told Law&Crime in March that he was thinking of suing CNN because CNN “doctored the truth.”
The defamation lawsuit against CNN comes at a time when Dershowitz is locked in a defamation lawsuit with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims Dershowitz’s former client Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with Dershowitz when she was a minor. Dershowitz has denied the allegations, saying Giuffre is a liar and that they have never even met.
Read the full lawsuit below: