White House bans CNN reporter as Trump sacks Sessions
Acosta has credentials revoked after tense exchange as fears grow over Mueller inquiry
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that the reporter’s “hard pass” – permanent credentials that allow access to the White House – had been suspended.
The decision has raised questions about the future of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which was established by the department of justice and is being overseen by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
In a thread about the contentious press conference on Twitter, Ms Sanders said the White House would “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job”.
“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,” she said.
“As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”
She was referring to an incident during the press conference on Wednesday when the president had a verbal altercation with Acosta.
When a White House aide approached Acosta and tried to take the microphone from him, he continued holding the microphone, saying “Excuse me Ma’am.”
Acosta on Twitter characterised Ms Sanders’s accusation that he had placed his hands on the young woman as “a lie”.
But Ms Sanders returned to the issue on Twitter late on Wednesday, stating: “We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behaviour.” She posted an edited clip of the incident.
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) urged the White House to reverse the decision, calling it “a reaction out of line to the purported offense”.
“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 wrote.
“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.”
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 in a CNN interview.
Earlier, Mr Trump followed through on repeated threats to remove Mr Sessions from office. In an unusual move, Mr Trump tapped Mr Sessions’s chief of staff Matthew Whitaker to replace Mr Sessions temporarily before appointing a permanent replacement. Mr Whitaker has publicly criticised the Mueller investigation in the past.
The Mueller investigation is investigating Russian interference, and possible links between the Trump campaign team and Russian individuals. The president fired FBI director James Comey, who was originally responsible for the investigation, last year.
Mr Sessions left the department of justice for the last time on Wednesday evening to applause from more than 100 staff members who had gathered in the courtyard of the building, located just a few blocks from the White House.
The former senator from Alabama, who was one of Mr Trump’s earliest and most loyal supporters during the 2016 presidential election campaign, had fallen out of favour with the president ever since recusing himself from the Russia investigation last year.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress who is expected to become the next House speaker, said on Twitter that it is “impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.”
She continued: “Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation. Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation.”
Ms Pelosi had earlier pledged to work constructively with Mr Trump as Democrats prepare to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years following a decisive victory in the House race in the midterm elections.
Speaking at a press conference in Capitol Hill – which was delayed substantially as Mr Trump delivered a 90-minute press conference on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue – Ms Pelosi hailed the Democratic performance in the House elections as a “great day for America”.
Democrats performed strongly in House seats across the country in the elections. As expected they seized control of the lower chamber from Republicans, comfortably winning the 23 seats needed to flip the political hue of the 435-member chamber.
However, Democrats failed to win any major battles in the Senate and are likely to see their numbers shrink further in the next Congress, as Democratic hopefuls like Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Phil Bredesen failed to win traditional Republican seats.
Incumbent Democratic senators in states Mr Trump won in 2016, such as Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, also lost their races.