Sanders then released a video, reportedly sourced from right-wing conspiracy site Infowars, which The Washington Post and other outlets said was doctored. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Monday denied that the video had been altered, but said that it had been “sped up” in the same interview.
Kelly said in court Friday that the claim Acosta “laid hands” on the staffer were “likely untrue.” The DOJ lawyers had declined to defend that statement in a prior court appearance Wednesday.
Two days after Acosta lost his hard pass, Trump appeared to undermine the White House’s official justification for its action. Acosta “was not nice to that young woman,” Trump said, but “I don’t hold him for that because it wasn’t overly, you know, horrible.”
The press secretary later softened her language, accused Acosta of having “physically refused” to give up the mic. The White House’s court filing Wednesday only cited the more recent characterization.
In an interview with right-wing news site the Daily Caller published Wednesday, Trump said Acosta was “bad for the country,” but said he wasn’t certain if he would beat CNN in the lawsuit.
“Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won’t sit down?” Trump asked rhetorically.
CNN said in its legal challenge that the “pretextual and unabashed attempt to censor a reporter” viewed as a critic sets a chilling precedent. “It could be others also” who lose their press passes, Trump said Nov. 9.
“This is an important victory for press freedom,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “We need reporters to be able to ask tough questions in these press briefings without having to fear that their access will be revoked as a result. The First Amendment forecloses the White House from selectively revoking access on the basis of a reporter’s viewpoint.”
A swath of major media organizations, including NBC News, The Washington Post and The New York Times came out in favor of CNN and Acosta.
“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons,” those outlets said in a joint statement. “Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President.”
Fox News also came out publicly on CNN’s side, to the surprise of some in the media. Trump has close friendships with many Fox personalities, especially right-wing commentator Sean Hannity, and regularly promotes the network’s content.
“While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people,” Fox president Jay Wallace said in a statement.
But conservative cable network One America News Network, which has reportedly become one of Trump’s favorites for its flattering coverage of his presidency, filed a supporting document in CNN’s case Thursday night supporting the White House over its media colleague.
Trump was “right on point” to call Acosta “rude” during the heated exchange at the news conference, OANN argued.
“While this narcissistic approach may serve Plaintiff’s self-interests as entertainers or media figures and the network that profits therefrom, they do not serve the interests of the forum,” OANN said.
contributed to this report.