A federal judge will hold a hearing on Wednesday on a CNN lawsuit against President Donald Trump‘s administration after the White House revoked the press credentials of the network’s journalist last week.
The American network said its correspondent Jim Acosta’s removal was a violation of his First Amendment rights to freely report on the government.
The White House dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.
If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials
The dispute 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.
“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, announcing the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Washington.
“If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials,” CNN said.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered the Trump administration to respond by 11:00am (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday and set a hearing for 3:30pm.
Kelly, a former chief counsel for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, was appointed by Trump last year.
The White House had suspended Acosta’s hard pass after he sparred at a news conference with the president, who demanded that the reporter give up the microphone and called him a “rude, terrible person” when he did not immediately comply.
They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern US border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!” and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.
White House Press Secretary Sarah 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 it “absolutely unacceptable”.
Hours later, Sanders announced Acosta’s hard pass had been suspended, in a move that she justified by claiming the reporter was inappropriately “placing his hands” on the intern.
The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told her.
She alleged that Acosta “physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern,” softening the earlier misconduct accusation and then casting blame on the journalist for his persistent questioning.
“The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolise the floor,” the press secretary said in a statement.
“If there is no check on this type of behaviour, it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff and members of the media to conduct business.”
CNN lawyer Ted Boutrous said the White Houses’ suspension of the press pass made “clear it was based on the content of the reporting.”
“CNN’s argument is very straightforward,” the lawyer told the American 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.”