WASHINGTON, USA (3rd UPDATE) – CNN sued Donald Trump's administration Tuesday, November 13, alleging the White House violated journalist Jim Acosta's constitutional rights by revoking his press credentials following a heated exchange with the US president.
The row on live national television and Acosta's resulting banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press, and marked a sharp escalation in tensions between the president and CNN, a frequent target of his ire.
"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," the news network said in a statement that announced the lawsuit filed in a Washington federal court.
"We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process," CNN said, warning that Acosta's credential suspension could set precedent for future attacks on other outlets.
"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 had suspended Acosta's hard pass after he sparred at a news conference with the president, who demanded that the reporter yield the microphone and called him a "rude, terrible person" when he did not immediately comply.
Acosta persisted with questions and a White House intern tried to take the microphone from the CNN journalist – an incident the Trump administration characterized as misconduct against the woman.
Hours later White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Acosta's hard pass had been suspended, a rare if not unprecedented move that she justified by claiming the reporter was inappropriately "placing his hands" on the intern.
Sanders then tweeted a video that she said backed up her characterization of the incident – but analysts said the footage was sped up to make it appear that Acosta struck the intern.
"When the White House revoked the press pass, it is clear it was based on the content of the reporting," said Ted Boutrous, CNN's counsel for the lawsuit.
"CNN's argument is very straightforward," the lawyer told the US network. "We can't have the White House tossing people out because they don't like what they are saying or what they are reporting."
"That is what happened. That is the First Amendment."
Both Acosta and CNN are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which targets six defendants: Trump, Sanders, White House chief of staff John Kelly, deputy chief of staff William Shine, the Secret Service and its director along with the agent who took the banned journalist's credentials.
In addition to requesting the return of the journalist's pass, the network is seeking "a declaration that the revocation of Acosta's press was unconstitutional," according to the filing.
The White House Correspondents' Association welcomed CNN's lawsuit, saying "revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events."
"We continue to urge the administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN's correspondent," WHCA president Olivier Knox said in a statement.
"The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him."
Trump is no stranger to fights with the press: the president regularly labels unfavorable coverage as "fake news" and has threatened to ban certain media organizations from his events.
The lawsuit cites Trump's past attacks on CNN, including a tweet that depicted the president "tackling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his face" and his statement that "CNN is fake news, I don't take questions from CNN." – Rappler.com