Weighing in on CNN's battle with President Trump, the White House Correspondents' Association is urging a federal judge to reject Trump's view that he has “absolute discretion” to revoke the press credentials of journalists.
“Simply stated, if the President were to have the absolute discretion to strip a correspondent of a hard pass, the chilling effect would be severe and the First Amendment protections afforded journalists to gather and report news on the activities on the President would be largely eviscerated,” the organization writes in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday. “White House correspondents would have to choose between avoiding reporting or questioning that could upset the President, on the one hand, and risking the loss of a hard pass -- a requirement to do their job -- on the other hand.”
The group's papers come one day after a White House lawyer said at a hearing court that the President has the right to revoke press credentials of journalists based on their reporting. The organization is asking U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in the District of Columbia to reject Trump's "dangerous legal position" and order the White House to restore Acosta's press pass.
The White House Correspondents' Association -- whose members include reporters from print, TV radio and online outlets -- is weighing in on a high-profile lawsuit filed this week by CNN and Acosta against Trump. The legal fight stems from the White House's decision to revoke Acosta's press pass following a contentious November 7 press conference.
CNN and Acosta argue that the revocation violates the First Amendment and are asking for a court order requiring the White House to restore Acosta's “hard pass,” which allowed him to enter the White House and press offices. CNN and Acosta contend the press pass was rescinded based on the substance of their reporting.
The White House argues it has “absolute discretion” to take away a reporter's press credentials. But the administration also makes a narrower argument -- that it had good reason to revoke Acosta's credentials because he was “disruptive” at the November 7 press conference.
But initially, the administration suggested that the credentials were pulled because Acosta had physically placed his hands on a staffer. Soon after the press conference, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders posted a video that, in her words, appeared to show Acosta "placing his hands" on the staffer who had tried to take away the microphone. That clip had been altered to make Acosta's actions seem violent when they were not: The un-doctored clip -- accessible on C-SPAN -- shows Acosta trying to hold onto the microphone as the staffer tried to physically grab it away.
The clip shows Acosta questioning President Trump about his pre-midterm election statements characterizing a “caravan” of migrants traveling north from Central America as an “invasion.”
In the course of responding, Trump said: “You know what? I think you should . . . I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
Acosta then attempted to ask follow-up questions as a female staffer tried to take the microphone from his hands. Acosta held on to the microphone and started to pose another question.
Trump then called Acosta “a rude, terrible person” who “shouldn't be working for CNN.”
Soon afterward, Acosta's press pass was revoked.
Kelly is expected to issue a decision on Friday morning.