Two days after former ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson revealed that CNN was gearing up to sue the Trump Administration over its decision to suspend the press credentials of Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, President Trump’s favorite news organization has confirmed the speculation in a Tuesday morning tweet.
In a bizarre example of a news organization reporting on itself, CNN revealed that it was suing the White House on First Amendment and Fifth Amendment grounds. The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Washington DC on Tuesday morning.
— CNN (@CNN) November 13, 2018
Both Acosta and CNN are named as plaintiffs, while defendants include two secret service members, three White House senior staff and – of course – President Trump himself.
Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s hard pass away last Wednesday. The officer is identified as John Doe in the suit, pending his identification. The six defendants are all named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta’s suspension.
The lawsuit comes after CNN sent a letter to the White House formally requesting the immediate reinstatement of Acosta’s pass and threatening a lawsuit. The news organization is demanding a preliminary injunction to allow Acosta to return to the White House press room as soon as possible.
While the First Amendment case – that Trump is directly impinging on CNN‘s press-related freedoms – is self-evident, CNNis relying on a little-known precedent for its claims that the administration violated Acosta’s due-process rights.
As the prospect of a lawsuit loomed on Sunday, attorney Floyd Abrams, one of the country’s most respected First Amendment lawyers, said the relevant precedent is a 1977 ruling in favor of Robert Sherrill, a muckraking journalist who was denied access to the White House in 1966.
Eleven years later, a D.C. Court of Appeals judge ruled that the Secret Service had to establish “narrow and specific” standards for judging applicants. In practice, the key question is whether the applicant would pose a threat to the president.
The code of federal regulations states that “in granting or denying a request for a security clearance made in response to an application for a White House press pass, officials of the Secret Service will be guided solely by the principle of whether the applicant presents a potential source of physical danger to the President and/or the family of the President so serious as to justify his or her exclusion from White House press privileges.”
There are other guidelines as well. Abrams said the case law specifies that before a press pass is denied, “you have to have notice, you have to have a chance to respond, and you have to have a written opinion by the White House as to what it’s doing and why, so the courts can examine it.”
“We’ve had none of those things here,” Abrams said.
That’s why the lawsuit is alleging a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process.
Here’s CNN’s statement on the lawsuit:
“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.”
Acosta’s press pass was revoked after he refused to sit down during a press conference and got into a physical standoff with a young, female White House intern when she tried to take his microphone.
Acosta’s petulant questions incensed Trump, who called Acosta a “rude, terrible person” in a press room standoff that has become the stuff of legend.