November 14, 2018
CNN on November 13 filed a lawsuit against the President Donald Trump and several of his aides—including Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Director of the U.S. Secret Service Randolph Alles, and Secret Service Agent “John Doe” in his official capacity—in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demanding that the press credentials of Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta be restored, the network reported.
“The suit escalates a long-running feud between President Trump and CNN and could test the limits of the president’s ability to crack down on news organizations whose coverage he does not like,” CNN said.
According to the terms of the complaint, Acosta has covered the White House since 2012 and, since 2013, has possessed press credentials—often called a “hard pass”—that allow him regular and unescorted access to White House briefings. However, on November 7, the defendants “revoked Acosta’s White House credentials because, in the president’s own words, Acosta failed ‘to treat the White House with respect’” at a briefing.
What’s more, the suit alleges “the revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning; as the president explained there ‘could be others also’ who get their credentials revoked.”
In the suit, the cable news network accuses Trump and other administration officials of violating Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process, respectively, and asks the court—presided over by Trump appointee Judge Timothy J. Kelly—to immediately remediate the issue by replacing the credentials.
“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” CNN said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
Indeed, said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker in an internal memo to staff, “This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented.”
The White House responded immediately, with Sanders remarking that CNN is “grandstanding” by suing. She said the administration will “vigorously defend” itself. (Read the White House’s full response here.)
Specifically, the White House initiated its action against Acosta after he refused to give up his microphone to an aide and continued to question the president. Sanders has characterized that action as improper, saying that Acosts “plac[ed] his hands on a young woman.”
However, other reporters seated nearby did not confirm the White House’s accusations. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted on November 8, “The White House press office is sharing a manipulated video that makes it appear that Acosta was menacing the intern when he was not and did not. The intern reached over Acosta to grab the microphone while he trying to ask another and Acosta tried to pull away.”
“Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said in a statement on November 13. “We continue to urge the administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent. The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
“I have always endeavored to conduct myself as a diligent but respectful reporter who asks probing but fair questions,” Acosta wrote in a formal statement. “The revocation of my White House press credential not only destroys my ability to perform my current job, it will follow me for the rest of my career. My reputation and my future career prospects have all been significantly harmed if not completely devastated.”
Research contact: @brianstelter