WASHINGTON (CN) – A senior correspondent for Playboy claims in a federal complaint that the White House suspended his press pass because he lacked “decorum” and “professionalism” when conservative social-media influencers shouted at him during a Rose Garden event last month.
Brian Karem sued President Donald Trump and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham on Tuesday, saying the suspension of his hard pass to the White House will make his job nearly impossible.
Before Grisham’s pass was suspended, Trump held a social media summit on July 11 and later hosted “conservative bloggers and various social media celebrities” at the White House Rose Garden, according to the complaint.
Karem asked Trump a question as he left the event but did not get a response. That’s when conservative social-media activists taunted the White House press corps, Karem says.
One said, “He talked to us, the real news,” according to the complaint, and another taunted Karem, “Don’t be sad, don’t be sad.”
Karem says he told a joke, “This a group of people that are eager for demonic possession,” which drew some laughter except from former White House aide Sebastian Gorka.
There are several photos and videos from the summit, including of Gorka approaching Karem, yelling at him and getting close to his face.
“When he heard Karem’s comment, he acted as though it incensed him, yelling at Karem in a fury across the Rose Garden, asking him if he was a ‘journalist,’ while making air quotes with his hands,” Karem says in his complaint.
Gorka yelled, “You are a punk! You’re not a journalist!” while the conservative activists cheered and chanted, “Gorka!” Others egged on Gorka to hit Karem.
According to the complaint, one attendee shouted to Karem, “Just for the record, [Gorka] would kick your punk ass.”
Later that day, Trump took to Twitter to celebrate Gorka’s shouting match.
On Aug. 16, more than three weeks later, Karem received a letter from Grisham that said she was making a “preliminary decision” to suspend his hard pass for 30 days.
According to Karem, Grisham said he had insulted guests at the summit and “escalated” the conflict with Gorka.
She said Karem violated “widely shared understandings and norms of media professionalism” that reporters have to follow, including “decorum” and professionalism” standards, Karem says.
“Moreover, Karem lacked fair notice of such standards because the president has regularly breached any standard of ‘decorum’ by insulting, demeaning, and yelling at journalists at the White House and elsewhere,” Karem says in his complaint. “In addition, Grisham stated that the purported standards she relied on apply only to ‘press events,’ but she admitted that ‘Mr. Karem’s conduct occurred after the press event had ended.”
He says the letter acting as a final decision was unexpected and the suspension violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and his First Amendment rights.
Karem claims Grisham did not cite any legal authority authorizing her order and acknowledged he did not violate any published rule or standard.
“She gave Mr. Karem an unreasonably short time to respond given the important liberty and property rights at stake and then refused to share with him all of the evidence she relied on in imposing the suspension or even to define the scope of his rights in the process,” the complaint says.
Karem is represented by Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in Los Angeles. Boutrous called Karem’s suspension “part of a pattern of hostility and unconstitutional acts by the Trump administration aimed at journalists,” like with the effort to revoke CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s hard pass last year.
“My colleagues and I represented Mr. Acosta in the successful federal lawsuit that resulted in the restoration of his hard pass and we have a long history of representing journalists in First Amendment battles,” Boutrous said in an email. “That’s why we felt it was important to represent Mr. Karem in this case to fight back against the Trump administration’s war on the press.”
Representatives at the White House did not return an email seeking comment after business hours.