CNN sues Trump administration over Acosta press credentials

Trump and Acosta
CNN on Tuesday sued the Trump administration, demanding that it restore the press credentials of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

The suit escalates a long-running feud between President Trump and CNN and could test the limits of the president's ability to crack down on news organizations whose coverage he does not like.

In the suit, CNN accuses Trump and other administration officials of violating Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process, respectively, and asks a federal court in Washington to grant the "immediate restoration of Acosta’s press credentials."

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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the legal action as "just more grandstanding from CNN" and pledged the administration "will vigorously defend against this lawsuit."

"CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment," Sanders said in a statement.

The White House suspended Acosta's credentials on Wednesday following a heated exchange with the president during a televised news conference.

The reporter did not allow a White House intern to take the microphone from him after Trump cut him off following several questions about the migrant caravan and the Russia investigation.

Sanders, who is also named in the suit, last week accused Acosta of "placing his hands on a young woman." She later shared an altered video on social media that she used to justify the suspension of Acosta's pass.

In her new statement, the press secretary appeared to back away from that claim, saying Acosta "physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern" but said the White House's actions were nonetheless justified.

"The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional," Sanders said. "The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. 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."

Some legal experts say CNN has grounds to sue over First Amendment concerns.

"I think it's a really strong lawsuit," Floyd Abrams, a well-known constitutional lawyer, said Sunday on CNN.

"This is going to happen again," he said. "It's likely to happen again. So whether it's CNN suing or the next company suing, someone is going to have to bring a lawsuit. And whoever does is going to win unless there's some sort of reason."

The White House press corps has long had tense relationships with the presidents they cover, but it is unprecedented in the modern era for an administration to pull credentials from a reporter it does not like, according to George Condon, former president of the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA).

The Secret Service denied a press pass to Robert Sherrill of The Nation magazine under President Lyndon Johnson, citing a fistfight the reporter had with one of Johnson's aides. The law enforcement organization claimed Sherrill was a threat to the president.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Sherrill's favor in 1977, more than a decade after the incident, saying the Secret Service must provide formal notice of revocation of a hard pass and allow the reporter in question the chance to appeal.

Journalists covering the Trump administration immediately threw their support behind CNN after the lawsuit was filed.

"Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday," WHCA President Olivier Knox said in a statement on Tuesday. "We continue to urge the administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent. The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him."

One of the lawyers representing CNN is Theodore Olson, a Washington lawyer who reportedly rejected overtures earlier this year to join Trump's private legal team defending the president in the Russia probe.

Olson, who was solicitor general under former President George W. Bush, was later critical of the Trump White House.

"I think everybody would agree this is turmoil, it's chaos, it's confusion, it's not good for anything," Olson said in March after Trump parted ways with a string of top White House officials. "This seems to be beyond normal."