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No Confrontation Between Jim Acosta, Sarah Sanders at First Press Briefing Since CNN Legal Battle

Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta posed pointed questions of press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the first official press briefing since the network went to court to restore his credentials, but the encounter was largely free of confrontation and contentiousness.

After posing a first question about Paul Manafort, Acosta asked of Sanders, “If I could ask a follow-up; the president doesn’t believe the warnings in the climate report. The president doesn’t believe the CIA when it comes to Jamal Khashoggi. The president doesn’t believe the intelligence community when it comes to Russian meddling. Why doesn’t he have faith in his advisers?”

Sanders challenged his premise. “That’s not true. The president has a great deal of faith in the intelligence community, and certainly in the team he has assembled around him,” she said. In the case of Khashoggi, she said they have not seen “definitive evidence” of the involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Their exchange was a contrast to President Donald Trump’s Nov. 7 post-midterm press conference, in which Trump called Acosta “rude” after he persisted in asking follow-up questions and declined to give up a microphone to an intern who tried to grab it from him.

Later that day, Acosta’s hard pass into the White House was pulled, leading to a legal showdown in which CNN challenged the administration’s decision. A federal judge ordered that Acosta’s credentials be restored at least temporarily, and the administration gave up its fight over the incident on Nov. 19.

But the White House also issued a list of written guidelines for decorum at press conferences, including allowing follow-up questions “at the discretion of the president or other White House official taking questions.” Journalists who fail to abide by the rules will risk losing their hard pass, which allows reporters ongoing access to the White House.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU have expressed concerns over the new guidelines, in that journalists would have to worry about losing their credentials as they press White House officials on a variety of issues.

This was the first press briefing since Oct. 29, although Trump has taken questions from the press many times since then.

CNN aired the briefing live, but with a “facts first” side panel that listed further details on the topics being addressed. For example, as Sanders characterized a recent dire federal climate report as “the most extreme version” and “not based on facts,” the side panel pointed out that the report involved 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies.

MSNBC did not air the press briefing at all. A spokesperson said that given the day’s news, the decision was made to “monitor the briefing and to report on any major developments afterwards.” The briefing was live streamed on NBCNews.com.