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White House argues Trump has “broad discretion” to ban reporters

The Trump administration is not backing down after CNN’s lawsuit seeking to reinstate Jim Acosta’s press credentials.

President Trump Holds News Conference Day After Midterm Elections
President Donald Trump gets into an exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a news conference a day after the midterm elections.
Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

The White House now says the president has the power to pick which journalists are allowed to cover him.

In response to a lawsuit filed by CNN, President Donald Trump’s administration went to federal court on Wednesday to defend its decision to strip press credentials from the network’s reporter, Jim Acosta, after he and Trump got in a testy exchange last week.

The move breaks with historical and legal precedent, but the administration argues that denying Acosta a permanent press pass does not violate the First Amendment because he’s still free to report on the White House. Plus, he has roughly 50 other CNN colleagues who have “hard passes” to cover Trump.

”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,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in their filing.

The White House first revoked Acosta’s “hard pass” following a bizarre midterm elections postmortem from Trump last week, in which the president lashed out at Acosta, calling him a “rude, terrible person.” Vox’s Matt Yglesias has more on the fallout.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders explained the decision by accusing Acosta of “placing his hands” on a White House aide who tried to physically remove a microphone from Acosta. Sanders tweeted a doctored video from Infowars that both she and Trump have somewhat bizarrely argued was not doctored and supports Sanders’s version of events.

Many people — including a large share of professional political journalists — watched the actual events play out live on television and confirm that’s not what happened.

CNN, in its lawsuit, argues that since none of what the White House said actually happened, the whole thing is bogus and Acosta should have his press pass restored.

The decision to banish Acosta from the White House (and CNN’s subsequent headline-grabbing lawsuit) might seem to be just the latest salvos in the war between the network and the president — one they both seem to enjoy and benefit from. But it also breaks decades of historical precedent: The White House has traditionally granted access to outlets both large and small.

Free press groups, high-profile journalists — even a number of prominent conservative lawyers — worry that Trump, who repeatedly disparages the media as the “enemy of the people,” could set a dangerous precedent of presidents choosing how they’re covered, and by whom.

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” CNN said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

The White House is isolating itself

The White House is painting itself into a corner in its response to the lawsuit; even some of Trump’s biggest defenders are now coming out against him.

Fox News says it is standing in solidarity with CNN, joining with a slew of major news outlets that pledge to file amicus briefs backing the cable network.

“Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” Fox News president Jay Wallace wrote in a statement. “While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the President and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people.”

Though the case isn’t entirely open-and-shut, legal precedent is likely on CNN’s side as it moves forward with its suit. Trump has even admitted himself he wasn’t sure if the White House would win. But in the meantime, the Trump administration is embracing its feud with the media as a welcomed distraction from the setbacks of less-than-ideal midterm election results and controversial staff shake-ups.

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