CNN sues Trump administration over pulling Acosta press pass

CNN on Tuesday sued the Trump administration, demanding that it restore the press credentials of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

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.

{mosads}In the filing in Washington, D.C., District Court, CNN accuses Trump and other administration officials of violating Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process, respectively, and asks a federal court in Washington to grant the “immediate restoration of Acosta’s press credentials.”

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” the cable network 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.”

Judge Timothy J. Kelly, a Trump appointee, will hold an initial hearing on the case on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., according to a court filing. 

Kelly ordered the Trump administration to respond by 11 a.m. to the network’s request for a temporary restraining order that would immediately return Acosta’s press pass, and the judge will consider the request during Wednesday’s hearing. 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the legal action as “just more grandstanding from CNN” and pledged the administration “will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

“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,” Sanders, who is also named in the suit, said in a statement.

Trump did not respond to shouted questions after a Diwali event at the White House on Tuesday afternoon about the lawsuit or the future of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“We’ll be talking about it. Thank you,” Trump said as he left the room.

The White House has clashed with CNN, and Acosta in particular, since Trump took office. The president frequently demeans the network and has at times refused to take questions from Acosta.

Chants of “CNN sucks” regularly ring out at Trump’s campaign rallies, and the president’s supporters have heckled the CNN correspondent during live shots.

Sanders and Acosta have sparred repeatedly during White House press briefings, though the Q&A sessions have become infrequent in recent months.

The White House intensified the dispute last Wednesday when it revoked Acosta’s credentials following a heated exchange with the president during a televised news conference. The move drew condemnation from other journalists and press rights groups.

Acosta did not allow a White House intern to take the microphone from him after Trump cut him off following several questions about the migrant caravan and the Russia investigation.

Sanders last week accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman.” She later shared an altered video on social media that she used to justify the suspension of Acosta’s pass.

In her new statement, the press secretary appeared to back away from that claim, saying Acosta “physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern,” but said the White House’s actions were nonetheless justified.

While CNN’s coverage of Acosta’s credentials was initially muted last week, the network played up the lawsuit on-air on Tuesday.

Anchor Poppy Harlow told viewers the case was “not about politics.” Attorneys Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson, who are representing CNN and Acosta in the lawsuit, both made appearances on the network to lay out the grounds for the case.

Boutrous, who pledged during the 2016 presidential campaign to represent news outlets and others Trump sued for exercising First Amendment rights pro bono, claimed the White House ignored efforts from CNN to resolve the issue privately over the weekend.

Olson later argued that Acosta was targeted specifically because of the president’s disdain for his coverage and his employer, and that reporters must be free to be aggressive and persistent in their questioning.

“We can’t have a president acting like dictators do all over the world to silence reporters they don’t like, or reporters who say things or dig too deeply or expose the president too much,” said Olson, who was solicitor general under former President George W. Bush and reportedly rejected overtures to join Trump’s private legal team in the Russia probe.

“The president wants to silence people like that,” he continued. “He cannot do that under the First Amendment.”

When questioned last Friday about Acosta’s credentials, Trump suggested he could pull press credentials from other reporters who don’t show the presidency proper “respect.”

The White House press corps has long had tense relationships with the presidents they cover, but it is unprecedented in the modern era for an administration to pull credentials from a reporter it does not like, according to George Condon, former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA).

The Secret Service denied a press pass to Robert Sherrill of The Nation magazine under President Lyndon Johnson, citing a fistfight the reporter had with one of Johnson’s aides. The law enforcement organization claimed Sherrill was a threat to the president.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Sherrill’s favor in 1977, more than a decade after the incident, saying the Secret Service must provide formal notice of revocation of a hard pass and allow the reporter in question the chance to appeal.

Journalists covering the Trump administration immediately threw their support behind CNN after the lawsuit was filed.

“Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” WHCA President Olivier Knox said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”

This story was last updated at 5:21 p.m.

Tags CNN Donald Trump Kirstjen Nielsen Lawsuit press pass
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