STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A federal judge has ordered the White House to immediately restore the press pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta. The network sued President Trump and other White House officials, contending that they acted unconstitutionally when they stripped Acosta of his credentials. That happened after a conflict between Acosta and the president. He was trying to question the president at a televised news conference. Acosta spoke briefly outside the courthouse.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JIM ACOSTA: I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us this week. And I want to thank the judge for the decision he made today. And let's go back to work.
INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is at work at the courthouse and joins us. Hi, Nina.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So this basic conflict here - the White House wanting to control the space, CNN arguing for freedom of the press. How did the judge decide who was right?
TOTENBERG: What the judge said was, yes, it's true. There's nobody who has automatic access to the White House. But once the White House creates a space for reporters, journalists to cover the White House and grants press passes to people, it can't just revoke them arbitrarily. And to act arbitrarily would be to deny a right that has been created to the reporter. And what the judge said is that each day Jim Acosta is deprived of his ability to cover the White House as the chief White House correspondent for CNN, he suffers a harm that cannot be remedied in retrospect. And...
INSKEEP: Let's remember that what was happening here was the president was trying to get Acosta to sit down. There was an intern who tried to take his microphone. The White House made accusations that he had inappropriately touched the intern, which the video did not show at all. They released a sped-up version of the video. They then gave up that claim and said...
INSKEEP: He'd just been rude.
TOTENBERG: Let me just interject - let me interject here, Steve.
TOTENBERG: What he said was that the only notice that Acosta even arguably got was what the president said to him at the press conference, that he's a terrible reporter and that it then, in retrospect, tried to justify that with the notion that Acosta had laid hands on a White House aide, which was, he said, likely untrue. And he said that you can't justify something after the fact like that. He - there's a right here, a right to cover the White House. And by revoking that right, he had deprived Acosta of his ability to earn a living and there - et cetera, et cetera - that they had therefore suffered a harm, a considerable harm...
TOTENBERG: ...And deprived him of a right that the White House has long created at the - to cover the...
INSKEEP: Now - right. Acosta has said, let's get back to work. Is that actually what happens next?
TOTENBERG: That is for him, at least right now. And the judge asked everybody, all the sides in this, to come back to court on Tuesday to discuss how they proceed from here. There've been - the White House has no standards for when it revokes a press pass. It could conceivably try to create them for the future. But for now, we have to see whether there is actually going to be a permanent injunction or whether the White House just sort of says, never mind. Somehow, I doubt that - or this goes to a trial in front of a judge - this judge, Judge Timothy Kelly, who's a Trump appointee. And we'll just have to see how it plays out, Steve, because it's pretty unclear where this goes from here. I could see the White House someday saying, oh, well. We're going to have standards that say, you sit in your chair. You don't even raise your hand.
TOTENBERG: The president calls on who he wants. And we wouldn't like that either. And that would be a First Amendment challenge, I suspect. But the judge made this based on the due process of law guaranteed by the Constitution.
INSKEEP: Gotcha (ph). OK. Nina, thanks so much, really appreciate it.
TOTENBERG: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Nina Totenberg telling us that a judge appointed by President Trump ruled against the White House today, saying that Jim Acosta of CNN must be returned his permanent press pass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.