Even by Donald Trump’s standards, he reached a new low on Tuesday. According to several legal experts, President Trump might have just violated the First Amendment by kicking CNN’s Jim Acosta out of a press briefing.
In light of Trump’s profane comments about immigrants coming to the United States from poorer African countries last week — dubbed the “s***holegate” — Acosta, an accredited White House journalist, wanted the president to clarify his stance. Trump, who was presiding over the press briefing along with his Kazakhstan counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev, pointed at Acosta and said “out,” leading Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley getting “right up in [Acosta’s] face.” Later, he was obstructed from asking questions by Trump’s aides.
Infuriated by this denial of right to ask questions, Acosta took to Twitter to air his grievance, pointing out that the episode was akin to “something you might see in less democratic countries when people at the White House or officials of a foreign government attempt to get in the way of the press in doing their jobs.”
Trump’s decision to kick Acosta out, who reports for CNN and with whom the president already shares something of an acrimonious relationship, has led to a backlash by observers who claim that Donald Trump’s attacks against the press are reaching unprecedented grounds. It led to Republican Senator John McCain writing in the Washington Post that Trump’s actions were empowering dictators around the world.
“He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”
Sen. John McCain op-ed: Mr. President, stop attacking the press https://t.co/Z0Z0Q5U0oZ
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 17, 2018
What occurred reminded me of something I would see in a different country. Certainly not at the WH. Certainly not in the U.S. https://t.co/hV6vPRe0p2
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 16, 2018
But even more dangerously for the president, legal experts around the country claim that Donald Trump’s actions might have directly violated the First Amendment. American courts have previously observed that no public official can restrict questions by the press based merely on content, which is what happened with Acosta. George Freeman, the executive director of Media Law Resource Center, said it could form the basis for a legal claim by Acosta, and in all probability, courts will side with the journalist on the matter, as reported by Law and Crime.
Floyd Abrams, perhaps the foremost First Amendment attorney in the country, also claimed that Trump’s actions could end up stinging him real bad.
“If a journalist were barred from being present at a public event because of his or her supposed political orientation a serious First Amendment challenge could follow,” he said.
It remains to be seen if Acosta and CNN decide to move the courts because of what happened, but in case they do, the president might be ruled to have violated the most essential tenet of American democracy.