White House says it has ‘broad discretion’ on press access

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CNN sued the Trump administration Tuesday, demanding that correspondent Jim Acosta’s credentials to cover the White House be returned. | AP file photo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s administration contends it has “broad discretion” to regulate press access to the White House as it fends off a legal challenge from CNN and other outlets over the revocation of journalist Jim Acosta’s “hard pass.”

In a legal filing ahead of a Wednesday hearing on CNN’s request for a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta’s access, the government argues it “was lawful” to punish Acosta for his behavior during a contentious Trump press conference last week.

It rejects the idea that Acosta was “otherwise eligible” for White House access, saying: “The President and his designees in the White House Press Office have exercised their discretion not to engage with him and, by extension, to no longer grant him on-demand access to the White House complex so that he can attempt to interact with the President or White House officials.”

Trump himself, in an interview published Wednesday, was uncertain how the court fight would end, saying, “We’ll see how the court rules. Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won’t sit down?”

Trump told The Daily Caller that “guys like Acosta” were “bad for the country. … He’s just an average guy who’s a grandstander who’s got the guts to stand up and shout.”

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The White House’s explanations for why it seized Acosta’s “hard pass,” which grants reporters as-needed access to the 18-acre complex, have shifted over the last week. Acosta has repeatedly clashed with Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in briefings over the last two years.

The Associated Press joined with a group of 12 other news organizations planning to file an amicus brief in the case Wednesday.

“Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions. It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons,” the law firm Ballard Spahr said in a statement on behalf of the news organizations.

Fox News President Jay Wallace said Secret Service passes for working White House journalists “should never be weaponized.” Fox News was one of the organizations in the amicus filing.

Wallace said while Fox News doesn’t condone the “growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails,” it supports “access and open exchanges for the American people.”

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