WASHINGTON – The White House has suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credential after he and President Donald Trump clashed again during a postelection news conference.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Acosta’s hard pass, which allows journalists to enter White House grounds, was being suspended because he “placed his hands” on a White House intern who was trying to take the microphone from him after Trump indicated he was no longer going to address him.
Acosta sought to keep holding the microphone but, based on video of the exchange, didn’t appear to inappropriately touch the intern. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he said as he held on to the microphone.
“President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration,” Sanders said. “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.”
Acosta tweeted that Sanders’s statement is a “lie.”
Jeff Mason, a Reuters White House correspondent, tweeted that he was next to Acosta at Wednesday’s press conference and “did not witness him ‘placing his hands’ on the young intern, as the White House alleges. He held on to the microphone as she reached for it.”
CNN said in a statement that Acosta was banned because of his challenging questions and not for the reasons Sanders cited, which the news channel called a “lie.”
“This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support,” CNN said.
Sanders said in her statement that while CNN claims that Trump has no regard for the media, “there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today. Only they would attack the President for not being supportive of a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of an hour and a half – including several from the reporter in question.”
Without a hard pass, Acosta won’t be allowed to enter the White House grounds.
Reporters without such a pass must email the White House press office to request clearance and the White House can decline to process such requests.
The White House Correspondents’ Association said it “strongly objects to the Trump Administration’s decision to use United States Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship. Revoking access to the White House complex is a reaction out of line to the purported offense and is unacceptable.”
The association said it urges the White House to reverse this decision and encourages anyone “with doubts that this reaction was disproportionate to the perceived offense to view the video of the events from earlier today.”
CNN is a unit of AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia division.
CNN, Acosta and the Trump administration have had a rocky relationship from the start.
Critical of most mass media, Trump has saved his harshest remarks for CNN, which he often calls fake news, and at Wednesday’s press conference he said Acosta was a “rude, terrible person.”
In July, after CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins shouted a question about the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the Oval Office, Sanders and White House deputy chief of staff Bill Shine told her she was no longer invited to attend a news conference with the president and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later that day.
Trump often begrudgingly responds to questions from Acosta. Wednesday’s question was about migrants working their way through Central America with a goal of reaching the US Acosta challenged the president’s description of the migrants as a “caravan” threatening to invade the US.
“I think you should – honestly, I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN,” the president responded.
Acosta then attempted to ask a follow-up question and refused to surrender the microphone to the intern.
Trump then said: “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
Trump also again accused CNN and Acosta of reporting fake news and said when they do, “you are the enemy of the people.”
Soon after the press conference, CNN issued a statement saying the president’s “ongoing attacks on the media have gone too far” and are “dangerous” and “disturbingly un-American.”