CNN has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, members of his immediate staff and the United States Secret Service less than one week after Trump revoked the press pass of CNN's chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
In a statement Tuesday morning, CNN laid out the basics of its complaint.
"CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court," the statement read. "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."
The defendants in the suit are President Donald J. Trump, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications William Shine, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the United States Secret Service, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, and Secret Service Agent John Doe.
The 18-page complaint, filed at the United States District Court in Washington D.C., charges violations of Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights as well as breaches of the Administrative Procedure Act.
The president disliking CNN is not grounds for dismissal of its reporters.
Irreparable harm under the First Amendment: "Defendants have deprived Plaintiffs of their right to access the White House grounds by revoking Acosta’s White House credentials. Without those credentials, Acosta cannot access the White House and cannot effectively serve as a White House correspondent, thus depriving Plaintiff CNN of its chief White House correspondent."
No notice as given nor were Acosta or CNN given the opportunity to defend themselves.
Irreparable harm under the Fifth Amendment: "Defendants’ decision to revoke Acosta’s press credentials violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process."
"Neither the White House nor the Secret Service has provided Acosta any formal
notice of the reasons for, opportunity to be heard regarding, or opportunity to challenge, the
decision to revoke his hard pass."
The Secret Service broke the law when it unilaterally revoked Acosta's press credentials.
"Defendants had no legal or rational justification to revoke Acosta’s credentials," the third cause of action states. "The only justification they provided publicly—that Acosta “plac[ed] his hands” on a staffer—is not accurate, and the other stated justification—that Acosta failed “to treat the White House and the Office of the Presidency” with sufficient “respect”—is not sufficient as a matter of law."
"By revoking Acosta’s White House press credentials solely based on Plaintiffs’ viewpoint, the content of their speech, and their protected First Amendment activity and by affording Acosta no process to contest this decision, Defendants infringed Plaintiffs’ First and Fifth Amendment rights, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(D)."
CNN asks the court to immediately restore Acosta's press credentials "pending due process," a "declaration" that the revocation was unconstitutional and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the defendants pay CNN's legal fees.
CNN argues that without his press pass, Acosta cannot do his job and CNN cannot deliver full coverage of the news to its viewers. This was made apparent again over the weekend when the White House denied reinstating Acosta's privileges so he could cover Trump's trip to Paris to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.
Theodore Boutrous, one of the two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, emphasized the danger posed by Trump's actions against Acosta.
"If left unchallenged," Boutrous wrote, "the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."
The White House responded to the lawsuit Tuesday morning. Sanders said in a statement that CNN is "grandstanding" and that the administration will "vigorously defend itself."
“We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit."
"CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard 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 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. If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business.”
Ted Olson, the other attorney for CNN and Acosta, said in a statement that the White House's actions were plainly unconstitutional.
George Freeman, Executive Director of the Media Law Resource Center, also weighed in on the case.
"CNN has a very strong case," Freeman said. Acosta was banned "clearly because the president doesn't like the questions Acosta has raised and the viewpoints articulated by CNN."
The lawsuit, the first of its kind, is the culmination of a years-long contentious relationship between Trump and CNN.
How'd we get here?
On November 7, 2018, the day after the midterm elections, Trump had Acosta removed from the White House after he got into a spat with Acosta during a press conference. Acosta asked Trump if a group of refugees from Central America was truly represented a potential "invasion" of the United States, as the president had been claiming leading up to the election.
Instead of responding directly, Trump got angry. “You know what? I think you should... I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN," Trump blared to Acosta. "And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
When Acosta tried to press the president further, a staffer reached over and attempted to take the microphone Acosta was holding. "Pardon me, ma'am," Acosta said to the woman, who backed off. It was at this point that Trump began berating Acosta and CNN.
“I’ll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you work for them," Trump said. "You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.” Trump continued: “When you report fake news, which CNN does, a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”
When asked about the ongoing Russia investigation, Trump got even more flustered, calling it a "hoax."
Afterward, Trump called on NBC's Peter Alexander, who came to Acosta's defense. “I think that’s unfair,” Peter told the president. “In Jim’s defense, I’ve traveled with him and watched him. He’s a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.”
Trump didn't like that. “Well, I’m not a big fan of yours either," the president growled to Alexander. "So, you know.”
"I understand," Alexander replied. Acosta then stood up again and challenged the president to address last month's attempted bombing of CNN, among other targets.
“Just sit down,” Trump snarled. “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”
CNN tweeted after the testy exchange: “They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American. While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”
Following the presser, the White House press office peddled a doctored video of Acosta allegedly "putting his hands" on a staffer. Video analysis and eyewitness accounts show the footage had been heavily edited.
Acosta learned he had lost his press credentials later that evening while returning to the White House, where he was blocked by a Secret Service agent and denied entry. "I was just told to do it," the Secret Service officer said.
“The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting," Sanders said in her announcement, "it is an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this administration.”
Two days later, Trump threatened that more reporters may be in danger of losing their access to the White House. When asked by a reporter how long Acosta will be "in the penalty box," Trump said: “As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t made that decision. But it could be others also.”