Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

CNN sues Trump over Jim Acosta press pass

"If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

The White House removed the press credentials of CNN corespondent Jim Acosta (left) after a heated exchange with President Trump last week.
The White House removed the press credentials of CNN corespondent Jim Acosta (left) after a heated exchange with President Trump last week.Read moreAP file photos

CNN has filed a lawsuit against President Trump and top White House aides after they revoked the press credentials of correspondent Jim Acosta, the network announced Tuesday morning.

The lawsuit was filed in district court in Washington, D.C., and demands the return of Acosta's White House credentials. In addition to Trump, other defendants include White House chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy communications director Bill Shine, and Secret Service director Joseph Clancy.

"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. "While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

The White House Correspondents' Association said in a statement that it "strongly supports CNN's goal of seeing their correspondent regain a US Secret Service security credential that the White House should not have taken away in the first place."

In a lengthy statement, Sanders said the White House stood by its decision to revoke Acosta's credentials and would "vigorously defend" against the lawsuit, which she called "just more grandstanding from CNN."

"The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor," Sanders said. "If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business."

CNN read Sanders' statement in its entirety on the air Tuesday morning.

Brian Stelter, CNN's chief media correspondent and Reliable Sources host, described the lawsuit as "a historic moment for press freedom in the United States," adding, "There is no case like this that we've found… there's almost no precedent for a news organization suing the White House, either."

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano said he thought CNN had a strong case against the White House and Trump, regardless of Acosta's style of questioning or personality.

"Obviously Acosta may have been an irritant to the president, but he was hardly a danger to him," Napolitano said on Fox Business Tuesday morning. "So I think CNN's got a very good case. I think this will be resolved quickly. I don't expect a jury trial. I think it will either be settled or CNN will prevail on motion."

The White House suspended Acosta's press pass last week after the reporter pressed the president on his description of a caravan of migrants moving through Mexico as an invasion, which led to a hostile exchange with Trump.

"You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN. You're a very rude person," an angry Trump told Acosta. "The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible…you shouldn't treat people that way."

A White House aide attempted to forcibly remove Acosta's microphone. Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern," calling the action "absolutely unacceptable." But experts criticized Sanders for sharing a doctored video of the exchange to make it appear Acosta's refusal to hand over the microphone was aggressive.

"Absolutely shameful… You released a doctored video — actual fake news," Matt Dornic, CNN's vice president of communications and digital partnerships, wrote on Twitter last week. "History will not be kind to you."

CNN chief counsel David Vigilante is joined in the lawsuit by attorneys Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson, who served as solicitor general for former President George W. Bush.

Here is the lawsuit:

On Tuesday morning, CNN president Jeff Zucker sent an email to staffers explaining that a lawsuit was necessairy because the "White House action is unprecedented." Here is Zucker's letter in full:

This morning, CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration in DC District Court. The White House has violated CNN and Jim Acosta's First Amendment rights of freedom of the press and Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We are demanding the immediate return of Jim's White House credential.

As you know, Jim's credential was revoked last Wednesday, and he was denied entrance to the White House grounds by the Secret Service when he arrived for a scheduled live shot.

The White House's action came in the wake of Jim's questioning of the President at his post-Election Day press conference. Their assertion that it was because of Jim's interaction with a press aide was patently false, and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a video that was distorted to give an inaccurate impression of what happened.

This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented.

The First Amendment grants the right of all journalists to hold those in power accountable and ask tough questions. It's what Jim, and all of his colleagues who cover the White House and the administration, do with integrity and professionalism. As we have said before, we will always stand up for our rights. That is why we have filed suit.

I will keep you posted as the case continues. Below is the statement we released in conjunction with filing the suit, as well as a quote from one of our lead attorneys for the case, Ted Olson, who was the Solicitor General of the United States under President George W. Bush.