White House Fires Back at CNN Lawsuit
The tense relationship between the White House and CNN has elevated to a lawsuit over Jim Acosta’s access to White House press events.
CNN filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against President Trump and the White House accusing the White House of violating CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. Now the Justice Department has responded back claiming the President and the White House have “broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists.”
The White House had revoked the media pass of CNN’s journalist Jim Acosta for a tough line of questioning during a press conference that the president found unprofessional. The international news agency in an 18-page complaint accused the White House of muzzling the press and employing viewpoint-based discrimination to limit press access.
What is the CNN Lawsuit About?
The heated exchange between Trump and Acosta happened during a White House press conference on November 7. Acosta asked Trump if the caravan of South American migrants approaching the United States was still an “invasion.” The word “invasion” had earlier been used by the president to describe the potential arrival of the migrants into the country. Acosta wanted to know if their impending arrival was still an “invasion”.
But President Trump in his characteristic loose way of speaking fired back at Acosta.
“You know what? I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
Acosta attempted to raise another question, but a female White House staff approached and removed the microphone from him.
Thereafter, the White House revoked Acosta’s security clearance.
What the CNN Lawsuit States
The CNN lawsuit demands the White House reinstate Acosta and return his credentials. Both CNN and Acosta are listed as the plaintiffs and represented by former Solicitor General Ted Olson, described as a Republican heavyweight who successfully argued for George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore. Also representing the plaintiffs is another prominent outside attorney, Theodore Boutrous, and CNN’s chief counsel, David Vigilante.
The lawsuit lists the following as defendants –
- President Donald Trump
- White House Chief of staff John Kelly
- Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
- Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine
- Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and
- The unnamed Secret Service agent who seized Acosta’s media pass
CNN said they are challenging the White House’s treatment of Acosta in order to protect freedom of the press. Olson said the First Amendment protects the rights of journalists to ask elected public officials tough questions.
The “reasonable inference from defendants’ conduct is that they have revoked Acosta’s credentials as a form of content- and viewpoint-based discrimination and in retaliation for plaintiffs’ exercise of protected First Amendment activity,” CNN’s lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit is also seeking a declaration that Trump’s action was “unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
Support for CNN Lawsuit
Judge Andrew Napolitano, the top legal analyst on Fox News, thought CNN had a strong case. “I think this will be resolved quickly,” he said, adding “I think it will either be settled or CNN will prevail on motion.”
Other news outlets around the country have stepped up to express support for CNN’s lawsuit. In a statement Wednesday, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media, Fox News, Gannett, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, USA Today and The Washington Post, plus others, said, “Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions. It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President. We will be filing friend-of-the-court briefs to support CNN’s and Jim Acosta’s lawsuit based on these principles.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association is also backing CNN and said on Tuesday that the president “should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
White House Response to CNN Lawsuit
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders accused Acosta of failing to yield the floor to other journalists at the news conference in question. She said this was not the first time the reporter has monopolized the floor. She also accused Acosta of touching the agent who tried to remove his microphone in an “absolutely unacceptable” manner.
However, videos of the incident recorded by other journalists at the conference show a mild interaction between Acosta and the intern with Acosta largely pulling away. Others have interpreted the exchange differently and accused Acosta of aggressive behavior.
On Wednesday the Justice Department issued a response to the CNN lawsuit claiming, “The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences.”
In the lawsuit, CNN cited several instances where Trump had derided CNN, ABC and CBS among other major news outlets as “fake”. There was reference to the president’s interview with CBS’ Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” where he said “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
There was even a December 11, 2017 tweet where Trump wrote that Acosta was the “dumbest man on television.”
PEN America, a literary advocacy group, which also filed a federal lawsuit against Trump last October for his attacks on news publishers, issued a statement hailing CNN for their lawsuit.
“The revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass in unmistakable retaliation for his tough questions of the president was a bald and dangerous infringement on press freedom rights for all to see,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “This is why PEN America has filed our own suit…challenging the full breadth of President Trump’s threats and acts of retaliation against journalists and the media, so that no reporter will have to carry out their work under the dark cloud of a vindictive president ready to use the machinery of the bureaucracy to retaliate against hard-hitting coverage.”