The White House revoked easy access for a CNN reporter and the network sued. A court order restored the pass, but the case is moving forward. Have presidents tried this before?
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration plans to again revoke CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials after a restraining order imposed Friday by a federal judge expires, CNN reported late Sunday.
The White House pulled Acosta’s credentials after a Nov. 7 news conference during which President Donald Trump called the reporter a “rude, terrible person” when Acosta persisted in asking Trump a question about Russia.
In response, CNN filed a lawsuit – backed by several media outlets, including USA TODAY – demanding the return of Acosta’s credentials. On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, granted the request and ordered Acosta’s pass restored while the rest of the case plays out.
Kelly said the White House had violated Acosta’s Fifth Amendment right to due process by suspending his press badge without explanation or a chance for CNN to appeal.
“Reliable Sources” host Brian Stetler said in a post on Sunday that “White House officials sent Acosta a letter stating that his press pass is set to be suspended again once the restraining order expires.”
In response to the letter, CNN’s attorneys on Monday requested an emergency hearing on their motion for an injunction in the case. In the court filing, the lawyers attached the letter sent to Acosta on Friday from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine.
The letter says the White House made a “preliminary decision to suspend” Acosta’s “hard pass” due to his “conduct” at the Nov. 7 news conference. According to the letter, Acosta violated “basic, widely understood practices” for presidential press conferences by refusing to surrender the microphone after his question was asked and answered.
The letter tells Acosta he had until 5 p.m. Sunday to submit a written response to the suspension. It says a final decision on his credentials would be made by 3 p.m. Monday.
“Of course, you will continue to maintain your hard pass while the Temporary Restraining Order issued on November 16, 2018, remains in effect,” the letter concludes.
“The @White House is continuing to violate the First and Fifth amendments of the Constitution,” CNN said in a statement posted to Twitter. “These actions threaten all journalists and news organizations. @Acosta and CNN will continue to report the news about the White House and @realDonald Trump.”
Sanders said the White House plans to “further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future.” With a more clearly defined code of conduct, the administration believes it will have better legal standing if it punishes a reporter for breaking the rules.
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday” that was taped on Friday, Trump said his staff is currently drafting those rules in response Kelly’s ruling restoring Acosta’s credentials.
“And if he misbehaves, we’ll throw him out or we’ll stop the news conference,” Trump said.
The letter from Sanders and Shine gives some clue to what the administration believes the “code of conduct for journalists participating in presidential press conferences” should be.
It consisted of two basic principles:
- “A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and, having received a response, will yield the floor.”
- “When a journalist has had his or her question(s) answered, is expected to yield the floor and, when applicable, physically surrender any microphone the journalist is using to White House staff.”
Sanders initially defended the suspension of Acosta’s credentials on the grounds that the reporter wouldn’t hand over the mic when a White House intern tried to take it from him.
She said the administration can “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.” Later, she shared a video on Twitter that played a close up at high speed of Acosta pushing the intern’s arm away. The effect was to make what appeared to be a gentle push in real time, look more like a karate chop.
But after CNN sued to restore Acosta’s credentials, the White House shifted to a justification focused on Acosta’s refusal to hand over the microphone and how it was unfair to other reporters.
In the letter from Shine and Sanders, Acosta was admonished for “refusing to physically surrender the microphone to an intern who had come to collect it.”
“No other reporter at the press conference made physical contact with our intern in that fashion or refused to yield the floor as you did,” the letter said.
Contributing: Bart Jansen
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