CNN filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump Administration on Tuesday demanding that the White House restore the press credential of star reporter Jim Acosta after it was suspended last week -- but the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the move “more grandstanding from CNN.”
The White House yanked Acosta's pass after he got into a contentious debate with President Trump and refused to give up a microphone as the entire press pool looked on. It was just the latest case of Trump clashing with Acosta, the White House correspondent for the network Trump regularly derides as a purveyor of "fake news."
“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” CNN said in a statement. “We have asked the court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass to be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”
CNN added that “the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta,” but said it could happen to anyone.
“If left unchallenged, the actions of the White house would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials,” CNN said.
Press Secretary Sanders issued a scathing statement, calling the move “more grandstanding from CNN” and pointing out that the network has other reporters who are still allowed to enter the White House.
“We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” Sanders said. “CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment. After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions—each of which the President answered—he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters.”
Sanders continued: “The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional. The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business.”
Last week, Acosta's press pass to access the White House was suspended "until further notice" after he engaged in the contentious back-and-forth over the migrant caravan working its way up through Mexico. Trump characterizes the caravan as "an invasion," a term to which Acosta objected.
“Honestly, I think you should let me run the country and you run CNN,” the president said.
The reporter tried to ask him another question before a female White House aide walked over to him.
Trump then told him, “That’s enough!”
Acosta continued to try to talk as the intern was seen trying to take the microphone from his hand. She grabbed the microphone but Acosta wouldn't give it up and there was brief contact between the two. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the suspension of his press credentials stemmed from his "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern." She called the behavior "absolutely unacceptable."
Several news outlets accused Sanders of using a "doctored" video as evidence, but the press secretary didn’t back down from her decision.
“We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” Sanders tweeted to accompany the allegedly doctored video.
White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway has since said the video was simply “sped up.”
An attorney for CNN and Acosta followed up with a separate statement, saying the law is “clear” that the Trump administration violated the First Amendment and Due process Clause.
“The arbitrary revocation of Mr. Acosta’s press credential is causing irreparable injury each and every day because it is stopping him from reporting on news from the White House,” attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said.
The White House Correspondents’ Association – of which Fox News is a member – issued a statement in support of CNN's decision to take legal action.
“We continue to urge the Administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent,” WHCA President Olivier Knox said. “The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
Acosta has emerged as a hero of the #Resistance after making a habit of shouting and interrupting when Trump and members of his administration are available to the media. He has been praised by people such as comedian Jimmy Kimmel, but is often criticized by Trump supporters.
Earlier this year, Trump kicked the CNN star out of the Oval Office after Acosta badgered the president with racially charged questions. Acosta has also gotten into combative arguments with other members of the administration including former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller.
Fox News’ Nicole Darrah contributed to this report.