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Can the President Legally Revoke a Reporter’s White House Credentials?



CNN’s Jim Acosta blurred the line between reporting the news and becoming the news last Wednesday. Following a heated event at the White House, President Trump lashed out at the White House correspondent and called him a “very rude person.” The heated exchange occurred as Acosta questioned the president about the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Following the exchange, the White House suspended Acosta’s press pass and denied him entry to the White House grounds. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the decision by claiming that Acosta had behaved inappropriately at the news conference. CNN has rejected the Press Secretary’s claim and filed a lawsuit against the president and his top aides for breaching Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.

The case has prompted observers to question whether or not the White House has the legal authority to revoke a reporter’s press credentials.

What’s Required For A White House Press Pass?

There are several requirements that White House reporters must meet to gain access to White House press conferences. Firstly, Foreign Policy reports that reporters must demonstrate they work for a publication which publishes daily news to a “broad section of the public” and is free from the influence of special interest and lobby groups.

Then the reporter must then be approved by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, an elected committee of five correspondents elected by other accredited reporters. After approval from the Standing Committee of Correspondents, and the completion of a Secret Service background check, the reporter receives White House accreditation.

What Can Lead To A White House Press Pass Denial?

In the past, the only grounds for denying access to reporters have been due to security concerns. The LA Times reported an incident during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency when the Nation’s correspondent, Robert Sherill, failed to secure Secret Service security clearance after he had been embroiled in several fistfights with government officials.

In 2001, Foreign Policy reports Trude Feldman was barred from the White House after she was caught on camera searching through a White House press aide’s desk.

The Actions Of Previous Presidents

When presidents have attempted to exclude specific media outlets from White House reporting in the past, they have been forced to back down. In 2009, President Obama made Kenneth Fienberg, the government-appointed administrator of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, available for interview to all the major news networks except Fox News.

The bureau chiefs of the other networks rallied behind Fox News and decided that if the exclusion was maintained, none of them would interview Feinberg. The Obama administration relented, reported Mediaite, and made Feinberg available to Fox News to interview.

A President Without Precedent

None of these cases display striking similarities to Acosta’s, leaving Donald Trump’s actions without precedent. Acosta did not fail his Secret Service security clearance. Trump’s ban was also not extended to all of CNN, only Acosta.

The closest parallel to Trump’s ban of Acosta came under President Nixon when he banned LA Times reporter, Stuart Loory, from the White House after he published an article about Nixon’s unnecessary tax-payer expenses on vacation homes. However, the case was not challenged in court.

CNN’s Legal Argument

CNN reports that under the First Amendment, journalists have access to locations which may not be open to the public but are available to the press. If Trump allows the press into his news conferences, he is allowing access to the whole press. He cannot legally deny access to one journalist for arbitrary reasons.

Trump has long branded the media as the “enemy of the people”. He may yet get his battle with the media. Only it will be in court, and his actions will be under scrutiny as a court tries to decide if he breached Acosta’s First Amendment rights.