Journalists urge White House to reverse ban on CNN’s Jim Acosta
US Wrap: Video of reporter’s altercation with Trump alleged to have been ‘doctored’
The Trump administration has doubled down on its decision to ban CNN correspondent Jim Acosta from the White House, after a tense interaction with US president DonaldTrump at a press conference on Wednesday.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job” as she announced on Wednesday evening that the journalist’s White House press credentials had been suspended until further notice.
Accusing the journalist of “inappropriate behaviour”, she tweeted a video of the incident, which had been earlier been shared by controversial website Infowars.
“The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement,” she said on Thursday as controversy about the decision deepened. It has been alleged that the video used by Ms Sanders was doctored.
During a tense press conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump engaged in a verbal altercation with Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, with whom he has previously sparred.
When a White House aide approached Acosta and tried to take the microphone from him, he continued holding it, saying “Pardon me, ma’am.” In a tweet, Acosta described Ms Sanders’s accusation that he had placed his hands on the young woman as “a lie”.
‘Out of line’
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) urged the Trump administration to reverse the decision, calling it “a reaction out of line to the purported offence”.
“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,” WHCA president Oliver Knox said. “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.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on the White House to restore the press credentials of the reporter, noting that the incident had taken place in the context of “heightened hostility towards the media in the US”.
Speaking on CNN, Acosta said he had been blocked by secret service agents when he tried to enter the White House to record a live broadcast on Wednesday evening. “I think they’re trying to shut us down in the White House . . . I never thought in this country that I wouldn’t be able to cover the president of the United States simply because I was trying to ask a question,” he said.
As controversy over Mr Trump’s belligerent press conference continued on Thursday, focus also turned to Matthew Whitaker, the man who he has appointed as acting attorney general to replace the sacked Jeff Sessions.
Mr Whitaker, who was Mr Sessions’s chief of staff, has publicly criticised the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, prompting concerns that Mr Trump is appointing a loyalist in order to stymie the investigation.
An opinion piece in the New York Times by lawyers Neal Katyal and George Conway – the husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway – argued that the appointment of Mr Whitaker was “unconstitutional”.
“It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid,” the lawyers wrote in an opinion piece published less than 24 hours after Mr Trump ousted Mr Sessions from his post.
They argued that Mr Whitaker should be subject to Senate confirmation. “The public is entitled to that assurance, especially since Mr Whitaker’s only supervisor is president Trump himself, and the president is hopelessly compromised by the Mueller investigation,” they wrote.
Earlier in the day Kellyanne Conway defended the president’s actions, arguing that the Trump administration had “been very compliant with the Mueller investigation”.
Several prominent Democrats including minority leader Nancy Pelosi have called on Mr Whitaker to recuse himself from the investigation, though reports suggest that this is unlikely.