Judge Orders White House to Reinstate CNN Correspondent’s Press Pass

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CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta arrives at US District Court in Washington, DC, on November 16, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images)

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to reinstate press credentials for Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, who was appointed to the bench by President Trump, granted CNN’s request to restore the press pass for Acosta, giving him regular access to the White House grounds to cover events and press conferences.

“I want to emphasize the very limited nature of this ruling,” Kelly said Friday in granting the temporary restraining order in favor of CNN.

He did not rule on whether the administration’s decision to revoke Acosta’s press pass violated the First Amendment rights of CNN and Acosta. Instead, Kelly said that Acosta and his employer have shown that they are likely to succeed in their argument that their Fifth Amendment rights to due process were violated by the White House.

The White House revoked Acosta’s pass last week after a contentious exchange with Trump during a televised press conference the day after the midterm elections. The cable network argued that the Trump administration’s move violated the First Amendment rights of both CNN and Acosta.

The courtroom showdown overseen by Kelly could have a grave effect on journalists’ rights to access the White House and cover the administration.

CNN and Acosta argued that the president revoked the credentials because he didn’t like the questions Acosta was asking. The government countered that Acosta’s credentials were revoked for grandstanding and refusing to surrender the microphone to a White House intern so that another reporter could ask a question.

When Acosta held onto the microphone at the Nov. 7 press conference, Trump called him a “rude, terrible person.”

“You shouldn’t be working for CNN,” he said, later adding, “when you report fake news, which CNN does, a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”

After the press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on the White House intern, and cited the incident as the reason for why his media access was being revoked.

At Wednesday’s courtroom hearing, Kelly pressed the government on the accuracy of Sanders’s assertion that Acosta had placed his hands on the intern.

“You have no position on the accuracy of that statement?” he asked.

Without credentialed access to the White House or Trump on the road, CNN argued, Acosta can’t do his job.

Justice Department lawyer James Burnham said in court Wednesday that the president has broad discretion to choose who gets access to the White House. He argued that White House events are televised and Acosta could cover the press conference via the livestream.

CNN’s attorney Theodore Boutrous said it’s a fundamental misconception to think Acosta could cover Trump by watching him on TV.

Kelly ruled on Friday that Acosta has already suffered harm from not being able to cover the White House in the time since his press credentials were revoked. The judge said that sending another reporter with a hard pass does not make the harm to Acosta any less irreparable.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Kelly asked if there was a less-restrictive way that the White House could have reprimanded Acosta, perhaps by letting him keep his pass while prohibited him from attending press conferences.

Boutrous said that is a possibility.

“Rudeness is not a standard,” he said. “If it were, no one could have gone to the press conference.”

The Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press (RCFP), the White House Correspondents Association filed friend of the court briefs arguing on CNN’s behalf.

RCFP reiterated the network’s argument that the government’s retaliatory action against Acosta will have a chilling effect on the media given Trump’s threat that there “could be others” who lose their credentials.

“In forcefully and unflinchingly questioning the President, Acosta was engaged in precisely the kind of constitutionally protected newsgathering and questioning of the government that the First Amendment safeguards and upon which our democracy depends,” the group argued in its brief. (The Hill)