CNN sued the Trump administration on Tuesday in an effort to reinstate the press credentials of its chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, escalating a dispute that has highlighted the increasingly tense dynamic between President Trump and the news media.
In a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court, the network argued that the removal of Mr. Acosta’s White House press pass constituted a violation of his First Amendment rights to freely report on the government. CNN also alleged that the administration had violated Mr. Acosta’s due process rights by revoking his credentials without warning.
Mr. Acosta, who has clashed with Mr. Trump on several occasions, angered the president at a formal news conference last week with questions about immigration and the special counsel’s investigation. The CNN correspondent would not relinquish the microphone after Mr. Trump attempted to move onto another reporter.
Hours later, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, announced that the administration had removed Mr. Acosta’s credentials, which allowed him access to the White House grounds. The administration claimed falsely that Mr. Acosta had placed his hands on a White House intern who had tried to take his microphone away during the news conference.
“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” CNN said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
Ms. Sanders responded shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
“This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” the press secretary wrote in a statement, noting that dozens of other CNN journalists have retained their White House credentials.
In her comment, Ms. Sanders made no mention of her original claim that Mr. Acosta had reacted inappropriately with the intern. Instead, she wrote that “he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions.”
“The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional,” Ms. Sanders wrote.
Mr. Acosta, who has a reputation as a showboat among some his press corps colleagues, is not the first White House reporter to aggressively question a president in public. One of his predecessors, the ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson, said in a memo filed with CNN’s lawsuit that he knew of no precedent for a journalist’s credentials being yanked and “never would have imagined such action was possible.”
In turning to the courts, CNN has taken perhaps the most aggressive action yet by a news organization against a president who has systematically vilified journalists and media outlets since starting his campaign in 2015. Mr. Trump’s denigration of the news media as “the enemy of the American people” — and his popularization of “fake news” as a way to dismiss critical coverage — has alarmed press freedom groups around the world.
Supporters of Mr. Trump, though, are likely to seize on the lawsuit as evidence for the president’s claim that news organizations, especially CNN, are biased against him. “CNN sucks!” has been a frequent chant at Mr. Trump’s rallies.
Floyd Abrams, the noted First Amendment lawyer, said in an interview on Tuesday that the network’s legal action was necessary, even as he acknowledged the potential political fallout.
“I can understand the reluctance — at a time when the president is saying, ‘CNN is hostile to me’ — for a lawsuit to be filed with the caption ‘CNN v. Donald Trump,’” Mr. Abrams said. “That said, sometimes a strong response is necessary, both for the institution itself and for the broader cause for which it effectively speaks.”
Ms. Sanders is named as a defendant in the suit, along with Mr. Trump; his chief of staff, John Kelly; the head of White House communications strategy, Bill Shine; and the Secret Service.
The White House Correspondents’ Association issued a statement on Tuesday in support of CNN and Mr. Acosta.
“Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” the group’s president, Olivier Knox, wrote. “The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”
The law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is representing CNN. The legal team includes Theodore B. Olson, who served as solicitor general under former President George W. Bush. Mr. Trump has previously tried to hire Mr. Olson for his own legal team, without success.