White House fires back at CNN lawsuit, claiming 'broad discretion' to yank reporter Jim Acosta's press pass

  • President Donald Trump and officials in his administration say that the decision to revoke White House correspondent Jim Acosta's press credential was "lawful," arguing the White House holds "broad discretion to regulate" access for journalists.
  • The White House's court filing comes a day after news network CNN sued Trump, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, chief of staff John Kelly and other officials to reinstate Acosta's "hard pass," which gave him regular access to the White House grounds.
  • After Acosta asked Trump multiple questions at a Nov. 7 press conference, the president tried to move on to other reporters. A White House intern approached Acosta and attempted to pull the microphone from his hands.
A White House staff member reaches for the microphone held by CNN's Jim Acosta as he questions U.S. President Donald Trump during a news conference following Tuesday's midterm U.S. congressional elections at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 7, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
A White House staff member reaches for the microphone held by CNN's Jim Acosta as he questions U.S. President Donald Trump during a news conference following Tuesday's midterm U.S. congressional elections at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 7, 2018.

President Donald Trump and officials in his administration said Wednesday that the decision to revoke CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta's press credential was "lawful," arguing the White House holds "broad discretion to regulate" access for journalists.

"The White House responded to conduct that was particularly disruptive to a press conference with a decision denying one specific reporter further opportunities to cause disruptions," Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing Wednesday.

The administration's court filing came a day after news network CNN sued Trump, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, chief of staff John Kelly and other officials to reinstate Acosta's "hard pass," which gave him regular access to the White House grounds.

Sanders on Tuesday called the lawsuit "just more grandstanding from CNN."

The news network had asked a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for a preliminary injunction that would return Acosta's pass, claiming violations of Acosta's free speech and due process rights protected by the First and Fifth amendments to the Constitution.

The ban, CNN's lawyers said in court documents, extended beyond the White House grounds. Acosta traveled to Paris over the weekend to report on Trump's trip for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but "he was told that he would not be allowed to access the President's events" even though the French government had given him a press credential.

In an interview with the Daily Caller published Wednesday, Trump railed against Acosta and said his White House ought to win the lawsuit. "Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won't sit down?" Trump asked.

At a news conference on Nov. 7, Acosta disputed Trump's use of the word "invasion" to describe a so-called caravan of Central American migrants traveling toward the U.S.-Mexico border.

"As you know, Mr. President, the caravan is not an invasion," Acosta said. "It's a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S."

Acosta continued to ask Trump questions as the president tried to move on to other reporters. A female White House intern approached Acosta and attempted to pull the microphone from his hands. Acosta initially refused to give up the mic. "Pardon me, ma'am," Acosta said to the woman, still holding the microphone.

"You are a rude, terrible person," Trump said to Acosta at the time.

Sanders initially suggested the hard pass was revoked because Acosta was "placing his hands on a young woman," a characterization that received immediate pushback. The White House response was further criticized after the press secretary tweeted a video of the exchange, which The Washington Post and other outlets said was doctored.

On Tuesday, Sanders' language changed to accuse Acosta of having "physically refused" to surrender the microphone. The White House's court filing only cited the more recent characterization.

As part of the legal response to CNN, the DOJ lawyers argued that "Acosta's decision to engage in conduct that disrupts press events and impedes other reporters from asking questions provides a more-than-sufficient reason for revoking his hard pass." They also denied, as CNN had argued, that Acosta's pass had been revoked "because the President and his administration do not like CNN or Acosta's reporting."

Meanwhile, media organizations and journalists have offered statements of support for CNN. Fox News President Jay Wallace said in a statement that "Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized."

The president of the White House Correspondents' Association, Olivier Knox, said Tuesday: "Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday. We continue to urge the Administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN's correspondent."

In a joint statement, a bevy of other major news networks Wednesday, including NBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico, came out in support of CNN:

"Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions. It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President. We will be filing friend-of-the-court briefs to support CNN's and Jim Acosta's lawsuit based on these principles."

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