White House yanks press pass from CNN's Acosta

The White House on Wednesday suspended the press credentials of CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta after he engaged in a heated back-and-forth with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE.

The move is a dramatic escalation of Trump's ongoing battle with the news media and comes one day after the president's party lost control of the House.

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In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders justified the decision by claiming that Acosta became physical with a young female intern during his exchange with Trump.

Trump at a Wednesday news conference grew frustrated with Acosta's line of questioning about a migrant caravan and cut him off by saying “OK, that's enough.”

That's when a White House intern approached Acosta and tried to take the microphone out of his hand. The CNN reporter said “pardon me, ma'am” and refused to let go of the mic. Acosta's hand appeared to brush the intern's arm during the exchange. The woman then crouched down and away from Acosta.

“President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration,” Sanders said. “We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable.”

She added that “as a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”

Minutes before the statement went out, Acosta said he was denied entrance to the White House.

“I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit,” he tweeted.

He later responded to Sanders' statement by calling it a “lie.” 

CNN said in a statement that Acosta “has our full support” and backed up the reporter's statement that Sanders “lied” in her “fraudulent” explanation by citing an incident “that never happened.”

“It was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference,” the network said. “This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better.” 

Without a “hard pass,” Acosta will be unable to gain access to the White House grounds without specific approval from the office of the press secretary.

Other White House reporters expressed shock and outrage at the decision.

White House Correspondents' Association President Olivier Knox called the decision “out of line to the purported offense and is unacceptable.”

“We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action,” added Knox. “We encourage anyone with doubts that this reaction was disproportionate to the perceived offense to view the video of the events from earlier today.”

“This is something I've never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning,” tweeted Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.

“I was seated next to ⁦@Acosta⁩ at today’s press conference and did not witness him 'placing his hands' on the young intern, as the White House alleges. He held on to the microphone as she reached for it,” tweeted Reuters White House Correspondent Jeff Mason, who posted photos he said “depict what happened accurately.”

Trump and Sanders have often clashed with Acosta at news conferences dating back to the 2016 campaign.

During Wednesday's incident, the president called the reporter “a rude, terrible person” and said “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them.”

Trump also complained about what he called Acosta's “terrible” treatment of Sanders and others.

CNN responded to the president's remarks, saying in a statement earlier Wednesday that Trump's “ongoing attacks on the press” are “disturbingly un-American.”

The decision to suspend Acosta's press credential came amid a flurry of tough headlines for Trump after he fired Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCongress is going to make marijuana moves Trump throws support behind criminal justice bill Bill to protect Mueller blocked in Senate MORE as attorney general and grappled with the proposition of dealing with a Democratic-led House next year. 

-- Updated 9:30 p.m.