US news network CNN is suing President Donald Trump after White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass was revoked following claims he put his hands on an intern during a testing press conference last week.
In a statement issued this morning on Twitter, CNN said the White House had ‘violated’ its and Acosta’s rights under the First Amendment, on freedom of the press, and the Fifth Amendment, on due process.
It said that, if left unchallenged, the decision to bar its reporter “would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials”.
Several of Trump’s aides are also included in the lawsuit.
Both CNN and Acosta have rejected as a “lie” a claim by the White House that he effectively chopped at a White House staffer’s arm as she tried to take a microphone away from him while he was asking questions of Trump during a press conference after the US midterm elections.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a video that she claimed showed the alleged incident on Thursday last week, although some have claimed the video has been doctored from the original footage.
CNN said Acosta, who filmed himself handing back his “hard pass” to a secret serviceman, in fact had it removed “in retaliation for his challenging questions” to Trump.
Trump has since denied that the video shared by Sanders was doctored, claiming it was simply a “close-up”.
In a statement today, CNN said: “CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court.
“It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
CNN’s attorney, Theodore Boutrous Jr, said the White House had “punished” Acosta and CNN “for the contents of their reporting”.
“The law is clear that this violates the First Amendment and Due Process Clause of the Constitution,” he said.
“The arbitrary revocation of Mr Acosta’s is causing irreparable injury each and every day because it is stopping him from reporting on news from the White House.
“That is why we are seeking emergency relief and asking that his credentials be restored immediately.”
The lawsuit names Trump, his chief of staff John Kelly, deputy chief of staff William Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, US secret service director Randolph Alles and the secret service agent who took Acosta’s pass.
The agent is temporarily being referred to as John Doe until his identity is confirmed.
CNN sent a letter to Trump last Friday demanding that the White House hand back Acosta’s press credentials and warning that it was considering a lawsuit, according to the broadcaster.
The letter was sent two days after the White House correspondent was blocked from entering White House grounds.
In a statement on the lawsuit, Sanders said accused CNN of “more grandstanding”, adding: “We vigorously defend against this lawsuit.
“CNN, who has nearly 50 additional pass holders, and Mr Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment.
“After Mr 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 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 monopolise the floor.
“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.”
In its lawsuit, CNN argues that the network and Acosta had been “favourite targets of abuse” from Trump, while recognising that other organisations had also been criticised by the President.
CNN warns that other organisations could also face having their press passes removed. Speaking on Friday, Trump said there “could be others” to lose their passes.
The lawsuit also referred to previous criticism of CNN, including a moment at a press conference on 11 January last year when Trump told Acosta “your organisation is terrible” and later said “you are fake news”.
During last Thursday’s press conference, Trump again said CNN reported “fake news” and accused it of being the “enemy of the people”.
In a tense exchange between the president and correspondent, Acosta tried to ask one further question about Trump’s language around a migrant caravan headed for the US, but was repeatedly told: “That’s enough”.
As Acosta continued, the president went on to tell him to “put down the mic” and began to walk away from the podium, prompting Acosta to sit down and give up the microphone.
Trump then told him: “I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude terrible person, you shouldn’t be working for CNN.
“You are a very rude person, the way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible, the way you treat other people are [sic] horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander, who was due to ask a question, told Trump: “In Jim’s defence I’ve travelled with him and watched him, he’s diligent reporter who busts his butt off…”.
Trump can be seen in the video, shared by NBC News on Twitter, interrupting Alexander and telling him: “Well I’m not a big fan of yours either… you aren’t the best.”
Acosta can then be seen standing up to raise his concern that Trump has called media the “enemy of the people”, to which the President replied: “Just sit down please. When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”