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Alan Dershowitz will be able to move to discovery after surviving the first round of a defamation lawsuit against CNN over its coverage of Donald Trump’s impeachment.
The famed attorney was representing Trump in the 2020 Senate trial when he answered a question from Ted Cruz 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. Dershowitz gave a lengthy response that concluded, “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.”
Later, discussing that moment from the impeachment trial, Joe Lockhart appeared on CNN and discussed Dershowitz’ “absurd” views that he believed a president had “license to commit crimes” if it’s better for the country.
“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,” added Paul Begala, another politico pro turned CNN pundit. “Campaign finance laws: out the window. Bribery statutes: gone. Extortion: no more.”
In his libel claim, Dershowitz alleges CNN provided an edited version of what he said and a misleading narrative about his views that damaged his reputation as a scholar. He’s seeking $300 million in damages.
CNN, in a motion to dismiss, argued that it was protected by the fair report privilege, which shields the press from reporting about government proceedings.
U.S. District Court Raag Singhal agrees with Dershowitz that a misleading presentation cancels out such a defense.
“CNN presented an abridgment of Dershowitz’ answer to Senator Cruz’ question,” he writes. “The abridgment is not accurate, to the extent that it omitted a crucial qualification: that an illegal motive for a quid pro quo would be corrupt. As a result, the commentators’ statements – that Dershowitz believes a President can do anything, even commit crimes if it would help his re-election – are not based upon a fair and accurate summary of Dershowitz’ statement to the Senate.”
The judge takes CNN’s point that journalists have discretion and aren’t obligated to present all information that puts its subject in a positive light, but still concludes that CNN fell short of a standard of fairness.
CNN argued there were other grounds to dismiss the complaint including that the allegedly defamatory statements were opinions and there was nothing to support actual malice. On the former, Singhal sees the statements as mixed opinions with some factual foundation that could be challenged as false. On the latter front, even though the judge strikes Dershowitz’ allegation of political animus, he rules there’s enough at this stage. Accepting what’s pled as true, as judges must do in federal court on a motion to dismiss, Singhal points to the aspects of Dershowitz complaint alleging CNN had knowledge of his qualified views on the topic of unlawful actions by a president.
Singhal adds, “Whether the evidence adduced will ultimately satisfy Dershowitz’ burden of proving actual malice by clear and convincing evidence remains to be seen. But he has alleged enough to go forward.”
See the full opinion below…
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