The White House has suspended the credentials of CNN’s chief White House correspondent hours after a testy exchange with President Donald Trump.
Jim Acosta was asking a question at a news conference on Wednesday when a White House worker tried to grab the microphone from his hands.
Press secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders said access was removed because he had put “his hands on a young woman”.
President Trump had been giving his response to the mid-term elections, which saw his Republican party lose control of the lower house of Congress but gain seats in the upper house.
During a question-and-answer session, Mr Acosta challenged Mr Trump’s use of the word “invasion” to describe a migrant caravan heading to the US from Central America. He also challenged him over an anti-immigration advert that was widely seen as racist.
When Mr Acosta tried to ask a question about the Russia investigation into alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Trump told him repeatedly “that’s enough” and “put down the mic”.
A female staff member attempted to take the microphone from the journalist, and Mr Acosta resisted handing it over telling her at one point “pardon me ma’am”.
Mr Trump walked away from the podium and returned to say: “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person.” He added: “The way you treat Sarah Huckerbee is horrible,” without explaining why.
Another journalist spoke up in Mr Acosta’s defence, calling him a “diligent reporter”. Mr Trump fired back, “well I’m not a big fan of yours either,” sparking laughter from members of the audience.
Ms Sanders, in a statement posted in a Twitter thread, 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.”
Mr Acosta posted a tweet saying he was stopped by the Secret Service from entering White House grounds.
I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 8, 2018
Mr Acosta told CNN that he had been asking a question Mr Trump did not like which had led to a “back and forth” between them. He denied laying his hands on the woman, saying: “I was trying to hang on to the microphone so I could continue to ask the president questions.”
“We all try to be professionals over there, and I think I handled myself professionally,” he said, adding that he thinks, “this is a test for all of us. I do think they are trying to shut us down to some extent inside the White House press corps, and to some extent I think they are trying to send a message to our colleagues.”
CNN issued a statement on Twitter saying the ban was “in retaliation for [Jim Acosta’s] challenging questions”.
“In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied,” it said. “She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the press corps at the presidential residence, urged the administration to reverse “this weak and misguided action”.
“Such interactions [between reporter and president] however uncomfortable they may appear to be, help define the strength of our national institutions,” the association said.
Other members of the White House press corps have also come to Mr Acosta’s defence.
Jeff Mason of Reuters posted pictures of the incident:
I was seated next to @Acosta at today’s press conference and did not witness him “placing his hands” on the young intern, as the White House alleges. He held on to the microphone as she reached for it. The @Reuters pictures below depict what happened accurately. pic.twitter.com/nO68Hf4eQM
— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) November 8, 2018
New York Times’ Peter Baker said he had been covering the White House since 1996 and had never known a reporter lose their credentials in this way.
If this is a decision by the White House because it doesn’t like the coverage, it’s the first time I can remember this happening to any reporter since I started covering the White House more than 22 years ago. Very bad sign. https://t.co/VNPDua0dZn
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) November 8, 2018
The BBC’s North America Jon Sopel also reacted:
This is dumb. And disproportionate. @acosta may be royal pain in ass – but that’s our job. We’re not sent to ask easy questions. But can’t help feeling this is a shiny object thrown for the media to chase when far more important things are happening. https://t.co/tAlcg2FqR1
— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) November 8, 2018