Democratic rep: Trump 'deliberately set up Jim Acosta' with 'staged' incident

Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-Va.) declared Thursday that CNN's Jim Acosta was "deliberately set up" by 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 in a "staged" event involving an intern on Wednesday that led to the CNN correspondent getting his press pass suspended by the White House.

Connelly's comments were made to TMZ outside of Congress on Thursday.

"Do you think he’s going to have a better relationship with all these reporters?" Connelly was asked.

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"I would not argue that he’s going to have a better relationship with the reporters, given the fact he pulled Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials yesterday in kind of a staged setup," Connelly replied. "It was kind of a disgusting scene. So I think it raises very worrying questions about any respect at all he has for the free press and the role of the free press in a democratic society."

"When you say staged, do you think he came in to distract?" TMZ followed.

"I believe they had an intern deliberately set up Jim Acosta. Yeah, I think that was pretty clear," Connelly argued.

In a statement Wednesday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Acosta "[placed] his hands on" a young female White House intern who attempted to take a microphone from him earlier in the day.

“We will ... 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," said Sanders. "As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice."

Acosta took to Twitter to call Sanders's assertion that he put his hands on the intern "a lie."