The White House has suspended the press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta on Wednesday, hours after President Trump took issue with questions Acosta asked at a news conference.
The move to punish Acosta by removing his access to the White House is believed to be unprecedented. The Trump administration barred another CNN reporter from attending an open press event in July, but until now hasn’t gone as far as removing a credential, known as a “hard pass,” that enables journalists to enter the White House grounds.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited Acosta’s brief physical confrontation with a White House press aide during Trump’s press conference as the reason for suspending his press pass “until further notice.”
At the event, Trump snapped at Acosta after he asked the president if he he had “demonized immigrants” by calling a caravan of the Central American migrants “an invasion.” Following a lengthy and tense verbal back-and-forth, a female White House intern attempted to take the microphone away from Acosta.
Acosta held onto it, and raised his arm to stop the aide from taking the microphone from him, in the process making contact with her. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told the woman.
On Wednesday night, Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman” and said it was on those grounds that Acosta’s press pass was being suspended “until further notice.”
“President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration,” Sanders said in a statement. “We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question.”
Video of the exchange showed otherwise. On Twitter, Acosta responded to Sanders’s statement with, simply: “This is a lie.”
After their exchange at the news conference, Trump told Acosta: “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN. … You’re a very rude person. The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible. And the way you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
NBC News reporter Peter Alexander tried to stand up for Acosta, saying he is a “diligent reporter.” Trump responded: “Well, I’m not a big fan of yours, either.”
Acosta has frequently clashed with Sanders during the White House’s irregular press briefings and with Trump in televised news conferences. Trump has repeatedly called him “fake news,” turning him into a symbol of the president’s general animus toward the press.
In a statement issued immediately after Wednesday’s press conference, CNN said, “This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far. 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.
Sanders responded in her own statement, which said, “The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it is an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this Administration.
“As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”
After news of Acosta’s press pass suspension broke, numerous journalists came to his defense. Jeff Mason, the former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he was seated next to Acosta at the news conference and that Sanders’s characterization of what happened was false.
“[I] did not witness him ‘placing his hands’ on the young intern, as the White House alleges,” Mason tweeted. “He held on to the microphone as she reached for it.”
Still, right-wing personalities continued to spread online the false allegation that Acosta had been seen “pushing and shoving a female White House aide.”
Lindsey Bever contributed to this report.