In answer to a lawsuit filed by CNN after the White House revoked one of the network reporter's press passes, the White House on Wednesday asserted that it can decide which journalists are given passes and which ones aren't.
According to a court filing by the Justice Department on Wednesday, White House lawyers say the president and his aides are the sole arbiters of who gets into the White House.
"The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences," lawyers say in the filing.
"That broad discretion necessarily includes discretion over which journalists receive on-demand access to the White House grounds and special access during White House travel for the purpose of asking questions of the President or his staff. ..."
"[N]o journalist has a First Amendment right to enter the White House," the filing says.
CNN's White House correspondent Jim Acosta was kicked out of the White House last week after he refused to hand back a microphone at a Trump press conference, instead berating the president as he asked repeated questions. In its lawsuit filed Tuesday, CNN contends Acosta was simply exercising his First Amendment right. The suit names not just the Trump administration as a defendant, but press secretary Sarah Sanders, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and the Secret Service agent who physically revoked Acosta’s credentials as well.
“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 press release on Tuesday. “We have asked the court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass to be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”
"We’ll see how the court rules," Trump told The Daily Caller, asking whether "it['s] freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won’t sit down."
"He was very rude to the young lady," he said of the intern who was trying to retrieve the microphone. "'I really think that when you have guys like Acosta, I think they’re bad for the country. ... He’s just an average guy who’s a grandstander," Trump said, while acknowledging that Acosta is a reporter "who’s got the guts to stand up and shout."
Sanders on Tuesday also countered the lawsuit, saying, “We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit."
“CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment. After Acosta asked the President two questions — each of which the President answered — he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters," Sanders said in a statement.
“The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional. 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,” Sanders said.
The White House Correspondents’ Association on Tuesday criticized the removal of Acosta’s pass.
“Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” said group president Olivier Knox. “The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
"The government also claimed that CNN can't be harmed by the banning of one of its journalists, arguing that the "network has roughly 50 other employees who retain hard passes and who are more than capable of covering the White House complex on CNN's behalf," CNN reported.
CNN has rejected that assertion. So has the White House Correspondents' Association. The group said Tuesday that the president "should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him."
"This is a very, very important case," Ted Olson said. Olson, a Republican heavyweight who successfully argued for George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, is representing CNN along with another prominent outside attorney, Theodore Boutrous, and the network's chief counsel, David Vigilante.
Olson said Tuesday that it was Acosta whose press pass was suspended this time, but "this could happen to any journalist by any politician."
He spoke forcefully against Trump's action. "The White House cannot get away with this," he said in an interview with CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin.