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CNN Turns to Sam Donaldson to Bolster Case for Jim Acosta’s White House Access

Sam Donaldson
Jae C. Hong/AP/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — As it filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House hard pass, CNN turned to a reporter who stood out in his era for the aggressive way in which he posed questions to those in power: ABC News veteran Sam Donaldson.

He signed a sworn declaration in support of Acosta, in which he characterized the White House’s actions as unprecedented.

He also quoted Harry Truman in suggesting that the motivations on the part of Trump and his team were related to the types of questions that Acosta asked.

“President Harry Truman summed up the necessary interplay between a president and the press corps when he advised government officials at every level: ‘If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,'” Donaldson, now 84 and living in New Mexico, said in the statement.

Donaldson and Acosta are kindred spirits in their brazenness toward the job, even as other members of the press corps take far subtler approaches and fret about themselves becoming the story.

During the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was in office, Donaldson stood out among White House reporters for his willingness to pose questions to the President at any opportunity, even if that meant shouting them amid the sound of Marine One’s rotor blades.

“I believed then, and still believe, that it was my duty as a journalist to seize those opportunities,” Donaldson said in his declaration. “I was aggressive in posing questions and pursuing answers because the job of obtaining factual information from and about the public servants I covered is a job (if I did it well) that contributed to holding the government accountable to the citizens of this country.”

But he noted that in his career, he never had his credentials revoked, “nor was there ever even the remote threat to do so by any presidential administration, whether in relation to my conduct at a press conference or for any other reason. White House officials were free to complain to me or my employer about my coverage and occasionally they did. But never was there a move to silence me or demand that I report a story differently than I in my own judgment thought was correct and fair.”

He said he watched the Nov. 7 press conference and found that Acosta’s “conduct and questioning of the President were appropriate and within the norms of professional conduct for journalists generally and for a White House reporter specifically.”

In his declaration, Acosta said without a hard pass, “it is not feasible for me to continue in my current position as chief White House correspondent for CNN.” He also said without it, “my reputation and my future career prospects have all been significantly harmed if not completely devastated. If my credentials are not restored immediately, I highly doubt that I will ever be able to work as a White House correspondent for any news outlet for the rest of my career.”

He also said he now receives “death threats regularly, aimed at my work covering the President. This has frightened both me and my family and required us to take additional security measures in our daily lives.”