WASHINGTON (CN) – CNN sued President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanding that White House security credentials be returned to correspondent Jim Acosta.
The White House revoked Acosta’s credentials last week after a heated exchange with the president during a news conference last week.
Acosta repeatedly pushed to ask Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. The White House said it pulled Acosta’s access because he inappropriately made contact with an aide who tried to pull the microphone away from him to cut off his questions.
In a written statement announcing the lawsuit, CNN said “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 news network said.
The complaint names CNN and Acosta as plaintiffs and six members of the Trump admin as defendants: President Donald Trump, White House Chief of staff John Kelly, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and an unnamed Secret Service agent who physically took Acosta’s media pass.
CNN is represented former Solicitor General Ted Olson.
In a statement, Olson, a member of the member of Washington D.C.-based Gibson Dunn law firm, said, “The Supreme Court has held in no uncertain terms that the First Amendment protects ‘robust political debate,’ including ‘speech that is critical to those who hold public office.’”
“Mr. Acosta’s press credentials must be restored so that all members of the press know they will remain free to ask tough questions,” Olson said.
Press Secretary Sanders’ office slammed Acosta and his network in a statement Tuesday, saying last week’s press conference was “not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters.”
“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,” the statement reads.
The 18-page complaint, filed Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. federal court, opens with some details of Acosta’s two decades as a reporter and his assignment as CNN’s chief white house correspondent in January. It then dives into the now-infamous Nov. 7 White House press conference where Trump said Acosta’s line of questioning did not “treat the White House with respect.”
Acosta had asked the president if he still considered a caravan of South American migrants moving its way north to the U.S. an “invasion,” using the Trump’s own words.
Trump – who used the caravan as a talking point ahead of the 2018 midterm election and has sent military troops to the U.S. border in an attempt to block the migrants – responded by telling Acosta, “You know what? I think you should . . . I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
When the reporter tried to ask a follow-up question, an unnamed White House staffer tried to physically remove the microphone from Acosta’s hand.
That incident, which was highlighted in videos captured by multiple outlets and later in a reportedly doctored version shared by the White House itself, was used by the Trump administration to pull Acosta’s credentials.
In a statement released after Acosta’s credentials were removed, Press Secretary Sanders accused the reporter of “placing his hands” on the White House staffer and deemed the contacted “absolutely unacceptable.”
CNN, Acosta and other journalists in attendance for the press conference have rebuked the White House’s version of the event. White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said in an interview this weekend that the video released by the Trump administration was “sped up,” but not doctored or altered.
“They do it all the time in sports to see if there’s actually a first down or a touchdown,” she told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.
CNN’s lawsuit goes on to cite previous interviews with Trump to argue his disdain for the press is not only a violation of the U.S. Constitution, but also a cohesive effort to discredit the free press.
The complaint points to an interview between CBS’ Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” and Trump during which the president remarked, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
It further uses Trump’s own words to bolster CNN’s argument, saying the network has long been a “target” of the president.
It points to a Jan. 11, 2017, press conference when then-President-elect Trump told Acosta, “Your organization is terrible.. Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question . . . You are fake news.”
It also points to many tweets the president has sent accusing other major news outlets like ABC and CBS of being “fake news.”
Among the tweets quoted in the complaint is one from Dec. 11, 2017, in which the president called Acosta “the dumbest man on television!”
Citing precedent from several other high profile, press-related U.S. Supreme Court decisions including New York Times v. Sullivan, Sherrill v. Knight and Hustler v. Falwell, the lawsuit states that “the protection afforded newsgathering under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press requires that . . . access [to White House press facilities] not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons.”
Trump, who spent Tuesday morning tweeting condemnation of efforts by the European to create their own united military, has yet to directly respond to the CNN filing on his preferred platform.
Literary advocacy group PEN America, which filed a federal lawsuit in October over the president’s attacks on news outlets, applauded CNN’s lawsuit.
“The revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass in unmistakable retaliation for his tough questions of the president was a bald and dangerous infringement on press freedom rights for all to see,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “This is why PEN America has filed our own suit…challenging the full breadth of President Trump’s threats and acts of retaliation against journalists and the media, so that no reporter will have to carry out their work under the dark cloud of a vindictive president ready to use the machinery of the bureaucracy to retaliate against hard-hitting coverage.”