The White House has been ordered to return CNN correspondent’s Jim Acosta press credentials, which it had suspended after a testy exchange the journalist had with President Donald Trump during an East Room news conference.
“I will grant the application for the temporary restraining order,” requested by the network, said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly on Friday morning. “I order the government to reinstate the pass.”
Citing a “highly unusual set of facts,” Kelly said he was ruling only on the Fifth Amendment due process aspect of the case, not the overall First Amendment issue.
Kelly criticized the U.S. government’s action, commenting that CNN is likely to prevail in demonstrating the reporter was denied due process in the credential revocation process.
“I want to thank the judge for the decision he made,” said Acosta outside the U.S. district court. “Let’s go back to work.”
CNN attorney Ted Boutrous declared that Kelly’s decision marks “a great day for the First Amendment and for journalism.”
President Trump commented on the ruling, saying, "We want total freedom of the press. It's more important to me than anybody would believe. But you have to act with respect when you're at the White House."
Trump also said, "We're writing up rules and regulations. ... With the rules and regulations, we will end up back in court and we will win."
Kelly, who was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump, had listened to opposing arguments from lawyers for the government and CNN during Wednesday’s initial hearing in a lawsuit the network filed against Trump and other members of his administration.
The case is expected to become an important legal decision for the scope of journalists’ First Amendment rights.
“We look forward to a full resolution in the coming days,” said the network in a statement immediately after Kelly’s ruling on the temporary restraining order.
Numerous media organizations, newspapers and networks, including Fox News — which is generally viewed as supportive of the Trump administration — back CNN’s legal effort, with more than a dozen filing statements of support with the court.
The White House Correspondents' Association released a statement welcoming the ruling, saying "We thank all of the news outlets and individual reporters who stood up in recent days for the vital role a free and independent news media plays in our republic."
Government attorneys contend that Acosta’s conduct prevented the White House from conducting an orderly news conference and suspending his White House press pass does not violate the Constitution.
"If the president wants to exclude all reporters from the White House grounds, he has the authority to do that," Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Burnham said during Thursday’s hearing. "There's no First Amendment right."
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.”
Trump replied, “I consider it an invasion.” The two then engaged in an extended back-and-forth before the president declared “that’s enough” and told Acosta to put down the microphone, saying CNN should be ashamed to have him working for it, and he was “a rude, terrible person.”
Boutrous told the judge that Acosta was not given “due process” as he was not informed in advance that his credentials would be revoked, nor was he given a way to appeal the decision prior to being suddenly prevented from re-entering the grounds of the White House.
The network’s attorney also said the president had set the terms of decorum by being more rude and aggressive than any of the reporters at the November 7 news conference.
Government attorneys claimed there was no real damage done to CNN and Acosta because the network has about 50 other personnel who have been granted White House hard passes.
The judge, however, said the number of other credentialed press pass holder does not make “the harm to Acosta any less irreparable.”
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project welcomed Judge Kelly’s decision.
“The White House surely hoped that expelling a reporter would deter forceful questioning, but the court’s ruling will have the opposite effect,” he said in a statement. “The freedom of the press is a bedrock principle, and our democracy is strengthened when journalists challenge our leaders rather than defer to them.”
White House officials had also accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on a White House press aide who had tried to take the microphone from him during the news conference. Video showed that Acosta was not aggressive with the aide.
Judge Kelly, on Friday, called that accusation something of “questionable accuracy.”
The president, who regularly denigrates reporting he does not like as “fake news, repeatedly has singled out CNN for particular criticism.
The president’s re-election campaign on Wednesday sent a fundraising email to supporters condemning the network’s lawsuit, stating that Trump will not tolerate “the media’s liberal bias and utter disrespect for this Administration and the hardworking Americans who stand with us.”