WASHINGTON — The White House has confirmed that it has suspended access to the White House by CNN’s Jim Acosta, its chief White House correspondent, after a confrontational exchange with President Trump at a press conference earlier on Wednesday.
Acosta posted on Twitter that he had been denied entrance to the White House grounds and could not do an 8 p.m. hit. He also posted video of himself being asked by a Secret Service agent to give up his hard pass, which allows reporters to come and go without having to apply for credentials each time they visit the White House.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they have suspended Acosta’s hard pass “until further notice.”
In a statement, she said “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable.”
She added, “It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history. Contrary to CNN’s assertions, there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today.”
Acosta responded to Sanders’ claim by writing, “This is a lie.”
CNN said that Acosta’s credentials were pulled “in retaliation for his challenging questions at today’s press conference.” They said that Sanders accusations against Acosta were “fraudulent,” and an “incident that never happened.”
“This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support,” CNN said.
The White House Correspondents’ Association also released a statement condemning the move, calling it “out of line to the purported offense” and “unacceptable.” The WHCA urged the White House to “immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”
The video of the incident shows Acosta, as he attempted to ask a followup question to Trump, holding a microphone and the intern approaching him and trying to take it away. “Pardon me, ma’am,” Acosta says. He eventually gave up the mike, but it does not show him grabbing her. Instead, she tries to wrest the microphone from him. His hand appeared to touch her arm as she attempted to get the microphone and he held on to it to continue asking a question.
Sanders posted an additional tweet later that evening, writing that the White House stands by its decision “to revoke this individual’s hard pass.” She included a version of a slowed-down CSPAN video that is being widely touted as evidence of Acosta’s lack of wrongdoing. Some observers tweeted that the video looked edited so that the interaction between Acosta and the intern appeared faster than it was.
“We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” she tweeted.
CNN spokesman Matthew Dornic responded by calling Sanders’ video “doctored.” “History will not be kind to you,” he wrote.
Trump’s press conference, coming after Tuesday’s midterm results in which Democrats won back control of the House, was particularly confrontational with the news media. Trump also sparred with Yamiche Alcindor, a reporter for PBS Newshour, after she asked a question about Trump’s characterization of himself as a nationalist and how that relates to white nationalism. “That’s such a racist question,” Trump scolded her.
Trump has previously threatened to pull a reporter’s credentials on the basis of their coverage. In a tweet he sent in May, he wrote that “the Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
During his presidential campaign, his team barred The Washington Post and other outlets from campaign events, typically held in venues that are considered private property or secured under a rental agreement. But the situation is different at the White House, which is government property.
Some media law experts say courts have rejected previous White House attempts to restrict access on the basis of coverage. “This sort of angry, irrational, false, arbitrary, capricious content-based discrimination regarding a White House press credential against a journalist quite clearly violates the First Amendment,” said Theodore Boutrous, a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in Los Angeles. He cited a 1977 D.C. Circuit decision in Sherrill v Knight, in which the court ruled that when it came to bonafide journalists covering the White House, “access not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons,” including the content of their coverage.
In July, another CNN reporter, Kaitlin Collins, was restricted from covering a White House event because she asked questions of Trump during a photo op earlier in the day.