CNN has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to restore access for its chief White House correspondent who had his press credentials revoked.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is dismissing the lawsuit as “more grandstanding from CNN,” saying the administration stands by its decision to revoke Jim Acosta's credentials.
“After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions — each of which the President answered — he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters,” Sanders said in a statement.
President Donald Trump, when asked at the conclusion of a White House Diwali ceremony about the legal move by CNN, replied: “We’ll be talking about it.”
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, and the case has been assigned to the docket of Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee to the bench.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Judge Kelly, ordered the White House and the other defendants to respond to CNN’s motion for a temporary restraining order by 11 a.m. Wednesday. He set a hearing on the restraining order — which would temporarily restore Acosta’s press credential, pending the outcome of a trial — for 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta's First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” CNN said in a statement. “We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”
On CNN’s legal team for the case is former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson.
“The First Amendment requires robust, aggressive reporting,” Olson said, appearing on the network. “We cannot allow public officials to discriminate on the basis of their personal prejudice or feelings toward a reporter.”
Acosta is one of CNN's highest-profile reporters and has a reputation for tough questioning of Trump and other top White House officials. His critics say his questions are opinionated, rather than objective, and that he routinely cuts off other reporters who try to ask questions so he can pursue his own follow-up queries.
The Trump administration last week suspended Acosta's “hard pass,” which granted him access to the White House. The suspension came after the reporter challenged Trump's portrayal of a caravan of Central American migrants as an “invasion.”
White House officials have also accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on a White House press aide who had tried to take the microphone from him during the interaction. Video showed that Acosta was not aggressive with the aide.
The press secretary’s statement, however, makes no reference to the previous White House accusation that Acosta had placed his hands on the young woman.
Sanders has been criticized by journalists and on social media for tweeting a video clip of the incident that had been altered to exaggerate the contact between the intern and the reporter.
CNN’s legal move is receiving support from a number of organizations.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a brief with the court in support of the network.
“To be sure, Trump is entitled to dislike Acosta and any other journalist. Many presidents have been angered by searching news coverage. But Trump’s revocation of Acosta’s credentials is, simply put, extraordinary,” said former National Security Council legal adviser, Joshua Geltzer, who is executive director and visiting professor of law at Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “It’s violative of the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed by our Constitution, at the heart of our democracy, and long respected by presidential administrations of both parties, even in moments of great tension between the press and the president.”
The White House Correspondents' Association said it “strongly supports CNN's goal of seeing their correspondent regain a U.S. Secret Service security credential that the White House should not have taken away in the first place.”
WHCA President Olivier Knox, the chief Washington correspondent for Sirius XM radio, said "the President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
The American Civil Liberties Union called it “un-American and unlawful for the president to expel a reporter." In a statement, the ACLU added that “it shouldn’t take a lawsuit from CNN to remind the president of the First Amendment.”
Another media organization composed of novelists, journalists, editors and other writing professionals has also filed suit in federal court against the president.
PEN America’s Oct. 16 lawsuit came in response to what the organization regards as Trump’s threats and acts of retaliation against journalists and the media.
"We applaud CNN for standing alongside PEN America and bringing their own suit to forcefully defend the rights of correspondent Jim Acosta and all other journalists to cover the White House without fear or favor,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America. “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.”
Since entering the political scene in 2015, Trump has regularly launched verbal attacks on reporters and outlets that he considers unfair. Most notably, he has referred to some organizations as the “enemy of the people.”
VOA's William Gallo contributed to this story.