U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

White House suspends CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press credentials and falsely accuses him of manhandling intern

Incident Details

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A White House intern reaches for the microphone held by CNN's Jim Acosta as he questions U.S. President Donald Trump during a news conference at the White House on November 7, 2018.

— REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
November 19, 2018 - Update

CNN ends lawsuit as White House restores Acosta's credentials

On Nov. 19, 2018, CNN ended its lawsuit against Trump, after the White House announced that it would restore Acosta's press pass.

The White House's announcement marked a sharp reversal from its previous position.

On the night of Nov. 16, just hours after a judge signed a temporary order restoring Acosta's press pass for 14 days, the White House sent Acosta a letter — signed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and communications director Bill Shine — notifying him that the White House had made a "preliminary decision" to revoke his press pass.

But after CNN asked the court to grant an emergency hearing, the White House backed down.

"Having received a formal reply from your counsel to our letter of Nov. 16, we have made a final determination in this process: your hard pass is restored," Shine and Sanders wrote to Acosta in a letter on Nov. 19. "Should you refuse to follow these rules in the future, we will take action in accordance with the rules set forth above. The President is aware of this decision and concurs."

The White House also announced that Acosta and other White House correspondents will no longer be allowed to ask follow-up questions during press conferences:

Please be advised of the following rules governing future press conferences:

(1) A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;

(2) At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;

(3) "Yielding the floor" includes, when applicable, physically surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;

(4) Failure to abide by any of the rules (1)–(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist's hard pass.

November 19 letter to Acosta from Shine and Sanders

"Today the White House fully restored Jim Acosta's press pass," CNN said in a statement. "As a result, our lawsuit is no longer necessary. We look forward to continuing to cover the White House."

November 16, 2018 - Update

Judge orders Acosta's press pass reinstated

On Nov. 16, 2018, federal judge Timothy Kelly granted CNN's request for an order to temporarily reinstate Acosta's White House press pass while the lawsuit is pending. The order will expire in 14 days. 

Kelly found that the White House likely violated Acosta's Fifth Amendment rights by revoking his press pass without due process, but he did not rule on Acosta's First Amendment claim that the White House had specifically targeted him because it disliked his reporting.

I want to emphasize the very limited nature of today's ruling. In resolving this TRO, I haven't — because I've found that it must be granted on, as to the due process claim — I haven't had to reach the plaintiffs' First Amendment claim at all in which they alleged that the government engaged in viewpoint or content discrimination

Transcript of court hearing on November 16, 2018

Following the judge's decision, Acosta returned to the White House, where the Secret Service gave him back his press pass.

In a statement, CNN praised the ruling.

"We are gratified with this result and we look forward to a full resolution in the coming days," the network said. "Our sincere thanks to all who have supported not just CNN, but a free, strong and independent American press."

But the White House emphasized the limited nature of judge Kelly's decision.

""It's not a big deal," Trump told Fox News. "What they said, though, is that we have to create rules and regulations for conduct, etcetera. We're going to write them up. It's not a big deal. If he misbehaves, we'll throw him out or we'll stop the news conference."

November 13, 2018 - Update

CNN sues Trump administration

On Nov. 13, 2018, CNN sued Trump and administration officials in federal court, alleging that Trump's arbitrary revocation of Acosta's press credentials without due process violates his First and Fifth Amendment rights.

According to the lawsuit, the Trump administration has repeatedly refused to grant Acosta any access to the White House. 

On Nov. 8, the day after stripping Acosta of his permanent "hard pass," the White House denied Acosta's application for a temporary "day pass," which would grant him access to White House press events for 24 hours.

On Nov. 9, the Trump administration blocked Acosta from covering a scheduled event in Paris featuring Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron — even though Acosta had already received press credentials from the French government to cover the event.

Trump also threatened to revoke more White House correspondents' press credentials.

In remarks to the press on Nov. 9, Trump was asked about whether Acosta's press credentials would be reinstated. 

"As far as I'm concerned, I haven't made that decision yet," he said. "But it could be others also."

November 7, 2018

On Nov. 7, 2018, the White House suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass, banning him from setting foot on the White House grounds indefinitely. 

The unprecedented move came a few hours after a tense presidential press conference, during which Trump repeatedly insulted Acosta (and other members of the White House press corps) and a White House intern tried to physically remove Acosta's microphone out of his hand. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later tried to justify the decision to suspend Acosta's press pass by false claiming that Acosta had inappropriately "placed his hands" on the White House intern. The press secretary also tweeted a video of the altercation that had been doctored to make it appear that Acosta had hit the White House intern.

On the morning of Nov. 7, the day after the 2018 midterm elections, Trump held a contentious press conference in the East Room of the White House. CNN's Jim Acosta, a member of the White House press corps who often verbally spars the president during press conferences, asked Trump about why he had stoked fears of a migrant "invasion" of the United States. After a bit of back-and-forth, Acosta tried to ask Trump a second question, about the Russia investigation.

President Donald Trump defended his characterization of the migrant caravan as an "invasion" before attacking CNN's Jim Acosta, calling him a "rude, terrible person," during a White House press conference on Nov. 7, 2018.


As Trump tried to cut Acosta off and call on NBC News' Peter Alexander, a young woman — later identified as a White House intern — approached Acosta and tried to take the microphone out of his hands.

"Pardon me, ma'am," he told her. "I'm trying..."

"That's enough!" Trump said, cutting him off.

The intern grabbed the microphone that Acosta was holding, but Acosta would not let go of it, so the intern eventually gave up and sat back down.

Acosta continued to ask Trump about the Russia investigation, and Trump finally gave a cursory answer — "I'm not worried about the Russia investigation because it's a hoax" — and told Acosta to sit down.

"That's enough," Trump said, as Acosta tried to ask yet another follow-up question. "Put down the mic."

Trump started to walk away from the lectern, suggesting that he might end the press conference if Acosta did not stop asking questions. Acosta reluctantly let the White House intern take the microphone and then sat down. Trump returned to the lectern and the intern brought the microphone to Peter Alexander of NBC News. But before Alexander could ask a question, Trump went off on a rant about Acosta.

"I'll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them," the president said, pointing at Acosta. "You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN. ... You're a very rude person. The way you treat [press secretary] Sarah Huckabee is horrible, and the way you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn't treat other people that way."

Alexander stood up for Acosta.

"In Jim's defense, I've traveled with him and watched him," he said. "He's a diligent reporter."

"Well, I'm not a big fan of yours either, to be honest," Trump deadpanned, prompting scattered laughter.

Acosta stood back up and called out the president for continuing to demonize journalists as the "enemy of the American people," even after a Trump supporter had sent pipe bombs to the network.

"When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people," Trump response.

CNN condemned the president's response.

"This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far," the network said in a statement. "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."

Even as mainstream journalists came to Acosta's defense, far-right media and political figures began to adopt a different narrative — that Acosta had been violent toward the intern who tried to grab his microphone.

Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at far-right conspiracy news site Infowars, tweeted an altered video of the altercation between Acosta and the White House intern that appeared to show Acosta striking the intern, which did not actually happen. (In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Watson claimed that he did not deliberately alter the video.)

Although this narrative began on the far-right conspiratorial fringe, it soon moved into the mainstream.

At 7:46 p.m., Acosta tweeted that he had been denied access to the White House grounds and ordered to give up his permanent White House press pass, known as a "hard pass."

Minutes later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Twitter that the White House had decided to indefinitely suspend Acosta's White House press credentials.

To justify the suspension of Acosta's press credentials, Sanders falsely accused him of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."

President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. 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. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history.

Contrary to CNN’s assertions 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 supporting a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of 1.5 hours including several from the reporter in question. The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it‘s 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.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders statement on Jim Acosta

"This is a lie," Acosta tweeted in response.

In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Acosta described what happened at the press conference.

"This intern came up to me — they're describing her as an intern, I don't really know who she is — and attempted to take the microphone away from me," he said. "All I can say at that point is I was trying to hang on to the microphone, so I could continue to ask the president questions. Obviously, you know, I didn't put my hands on her or touch her as they're alleging, and it's just unfortunate that the White House is saying this. You know, we all try to be professionals over there, and I think I handled myself professionally."

CNN released a statement reiterating its support for Acosta.

The White House announced tonight that it has revoked the press pass of CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. It was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a thread to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support.

CNN statement

Oliver Knox, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, also released a statement criticizing the White House's decision.

The White House Correspondents Association strongly objects to the Trump Administration's decision to use US 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.

Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members ask of powerful senior government officials, including the President. Such interactions, however uncomfortable they may appear to be, help define the strength of our national institutions.

We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.

We encourage anyone with doubts that this reaction was disproportionate to the perceived offense to view the video of the events from earlier today.

White House Correspondents Association statement

Later that night, Sanders tweeted out a copy of the doctored video that had previously been shared by Infowars. Journalists immediately pointed out that the video had been doctored, and CNN spokesman Matt Dornic Sanders of sharing "actual fake news."

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].