DOJ releases memo defending Whitaker's appointment as legal, constitutional

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- A week after President Donald Trump forced Jeff Sessions to step down from heading the Justice Department and appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, the DOJ has now authored a memo defending Whitaker's appointment as legal and constitutionally valid.

The high-level appointment of Whitaker -- a frequent critic of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe who was not confirmed by the Senate before joining the Justice Department last year as chief of staff to Sessions -- has prompted both Democrats and even some Republicans to cry foul.

But in a memo Wednesday to White House counsel Emmet Flood, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel says, "Mr. Whitaker's designation as Acting Attorney General accords with the plan terms of the Vacancies Reform Act," which states that when cabinet members and other senior government officials are "unavailable" to fulfill their duties, the president can appoint other government officials to temporarily serve in the positions if those replacements are sufficiently senior and have been employed by the government for at least 90 days.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity, a senior Justice Department official said the Justice Department provided the legal analysis at the behest of the White House -- but the official refused to say when the White House asked if appointing Whitaker would be constitutional.

Further, the memo argues that Trump could appoint have appointed Whitaker whether Sessions voluntarily resigned or was explicitly fired by Trump.

"Doesn't that mean that, in theory, the president under your interpretation could fire anyone he wants and ... just make anyone a Cabinet official?" a reporter asked the Justice Department official.

"I don't want to address hypotheticals," the official responded, "[but] it is correct that if the president terminates officials, that official is unavailable under the Vacancies Reform Act."

A lawsuit filed by the state of Maryland on Tuesday is challenging the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment, insisting the Constitution and U.S. law require that someone acting as attorney general and other "principal" positions be confirmed by the Senate.

The memo written by the Justice Department says that previous administrations, including under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have similarly appointed non-Senate confirmed officials to positions that report directly to the president.

However, asked whether someone not confirmed by the Senate has ever been appointed acting attorney general, the Justice Department official said, "The best examples we found were in 1866" -- four years before the Justice Department was created.

The official would not say whether the Office of Legal Counsel has advised Whitaker over whether he should recuse himself from overseeing Mueller's investigation.

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Democrats ramp up efforts to sideline Nancy Pelosi, without an alternative

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A band of House Democrats determined to oppose House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's speaker bid are planning to release a signed letter as soon as this week indicating that they have gathered enough support to deny her the 218 votes needed to win the gavel on the House floor in January, a move they say would complicate her path to a second term as speaker and force renewed discussion about her stepping aside.

"This is a simple letter saying we want new leadership, which is what a vast majority of Democrats and the American people want," Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a member of the group, told reporters Tuesday.

Pelosi, who has said she's "100 percent confident" that she will be the next House speaker, has been working since last week on her bid, meeting and talking with new members and incumbent Democrats, to shore up support.

Prominent Democrats off Capitol Hill -- from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Sen. John Kerry, to former Vice President Al Gore -- have been making calls on her behalf, and influential House Democrats and activists have provided a steady drumbeat of public endorsements.

But Pelosi's critics argue that she has an increasingly apparent math problem. While she's expected to lock up the caucus speaker vote with a majority of members on Nov. 28, they're hoping to publicly release their letter before that vote to hammer their point home.

"It's time for a change," Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, who is opposed to Pelosi, told ABC News. "It's time for new blood."

ABC News has identified at least 14 sitting Democrats and incoming members who have vowed to oppose Pelosi on the House floor. Sources involved in the effort say that number has grown to at least 20 members, with many more incoming Democrats undecided. Pelosi can only afford to lose six votes -- a number that could grow to 14 if Democrats win the eight House races yet to be called.

"The whole point of the letter is to accelerate this process so that it doesn’t spill out onto the floor. She’s the one that is driving this to a floor vote. We want to make it clear before it comes to that that she should step aside," Moulton said.

Pelosi's allies have been quick to criticize the group vowing to block her as working to derail the will of the majority of House Democrats, and have ridiculed the group for not being able to find a candidate to challenge her for speaker head-on.

"If they’re foolish enough to sign their names to a letter when they don't have to, when they don’t know whether Pelosi is going to win or lose, and when they don’t even have a candidate to oppose her, then it doesn’t bode well for their leadership if they succeed," a Pelosi confidant told ABC News.

But Pelosi's critics say they don't need a candidate of their own to challenge her.

"There’s a very practical political reason why no one has come out. They don’t want to alienate Pelosi supporters. So it only makes sense from a political perspective that a new candidate steps up after it’s clear that she doesn’t have the votes," Moulton, who said he is not seeking to replace Pelosi, told reporters Tuesday.

Pelosi's allies say the California Democrat -- a veteran of countless leadership battles and whipping efforts -- is working methodically to line up the votes. Her team is listening to incoming members and sitting Democrats about their priorities and desired changes to rules governing the House floor, and believe there is still a path for her to reach 218 -- or a majority of House members present and voting -- on the House floor.

"I think she'll navigate it," Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., a rising star in the party who is running for a lower-level post, said Tuesday. "She's a smart woman."

One option they are exploring is tinkering with the threshold she needs to clinch the gavel: Pelosi can win on the floor with less than 218 votes if she can convince her critics not to vote, or vote "present," instead of for her or another candidate. They are also making the case to incoming members that voting against her in caucus but for her on the floor (in support of the caucus recommendation) will provide them with sufficient cover for their re-election races.

Meanwhile, Pelosi's outreach continues. She's mixed and mingled with new members during their orientation in Washington, and has plans to meet with leaders of the Progressive Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus late this week.

On Wednesday, the Democratic caucus will meet for the first time as a group since the Election Day victory, huddling in their meeting room in the basement of the Capitol with new members and tentative plans to discuss some of rule changes sought by Pelosi's critics.

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House Democrats, about to take control, debate party's direction

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The two dozen activists who occupied House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office on Tuesday, demanding action on climate change, were greeted by an unusual sight: Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cheering them on.

“I just want to let all of you know how proud I am of each and every single one of you, for putting yourselves and your bodies on the line to make sure that we save our plant, our generation and our future,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who was also taking part in the first day of orientation for newly elected members of Congress.

Pelosi encouraged the demonstration and restated support for a special select committee to focus on climate change. But the moment also highlighted the challenge facing newly-empowered House Democrats in their majority: how to handle the grassroots energy and expectations of the party’s progressive ranks while delivering on the policy and oversight promises that propelled Democrats to victory in moderate suburban communities.

House Democrats from across the ideological spectrum have been quick to seize on the results of the midterms as validation of their vision for the agenda of the Democratic-led House. Joking that many Democrats “prefer to spend their life in the fetal position, rocking in the corner of a room,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters on Monday that the group will “fight like hell” to advance its priorities, such as Medicare-for-all.

The group, which could become the largest Democrat caucus with more than 90 members next year, has created its own policy center to push Democrats to the left and shape the debate on Capitol Hill from the outside, in an effort to leverage its influence.

“This isn’t your mother or father’s progressive caucus,” Pocan said.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a co-chair of the moderate, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said that Democrats’ performance in districts previously held by Republicans indicates that the party “won through the middle.”

“I think it was clear that extremism was not the answer, and that practical problem solving from the middle is,” he told ABC News, arguing that progressives fell short in GOP-held House districts and races where they weren't vying to replace retiring Democrats.

The caucus, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, is advocating for rule changes in the House to encourage more bipartisan legislation.

“There’s great history where bipartisan, divided government led to legislative success,” Gottheimer said. “It obviously depends on how the president and the administration responds, as well as the Senate. I think that we in the House should look to find areas where we can govern and get things done for the American people, and that’s our job.”

Steve Israel, a retired congressman and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- the House Democrats’ campaign arm -- said that to be successful, Democrats need to balance "coinciding pressures” from different constituencies around big-ticket legislative priorities like immigration reform, prescription drug pricing, campaign finance reform and infrastructure.

“There are several core values that unite Democrats in both the progressive and more moderate wings of the party,” he said. “The challenge for House Democrats is to keep their eye on both constituencies and not close either the left eye or the right eye.”

Democrats are also aware that the party faces a challenge balancing oversight of the Trump administration with legislating, and have been careful to describe their plans to investigate the president and his administration's actions.

"I'm not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody's handing out candy on Halloween," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in an interview with ABC Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on This Week.

To that end, they plan to put forward a catch-all government ethics bill that will be designated "House Resolution 1" in the new Congress, that will include lobbying reform, public financing for political campaigns, measures to tighten conflict-of-interest rules, and election security, among other provisions.

“It’s a real opportunity to make a bold statement to the electorate that Democrats have been paying attention, we get it, we want to give people their voice back,” Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, who has led House Democrats’ efforts on the subject, told ABC News.

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Georgia's next governor remains unclear as Abrams scraps for votes

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Battles in the courtroom and protests at the state capitol underscore the bitter turmoil plaguing Georgia's gubernatorial election.

Legal victories have buoyed Stacey Abrams' campaign efforts and there is a belief now that enough outstanding ballots exist to force a one-on-one runoff against Republican Brian Kemp.

Kemp resigned from his post as the state's secretary of state last week after he and his party declared victory over Abrams. But two separate rulings from federal judges this week have prohibited his former office from certifying a Kemp victory and declared hundreds of scrutinized ballots as eligible.

One successful case prevents the state from finalizing election results before Friday evening and requires counties to tally thousands of provisional ballots.

Another orders Gwinnett County to accept roughly 400 absentee ballots with errors or omissions in birthdates.

Judge Amy Totenberg of the U.S. District Court in Atlanta wrote in her ruling Monday that the intention by the secretary of state's office to declare Kemp as the governor-elect as soon as Wednesday “appears to suggest the secretary’s foregoing of its responsibility to confirm the accuracy of the results prior to final certification, including the assessment of whether serious provisional balloting count issues have been consistently and properly handled.”

State Sen. Nikema Williams and about a dozen other demonstrators were detained in the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday while demanding all absentee and provisional ballots be tallied, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Authorities said the demonstration was broken up after several warnings because of rules that prohibit chanting or yelling while lawmakers are in session.

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How Martha McSally could end up in Senate even though she lost election

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Martha McSally received widespread praise from people on both sides of the political aisle for her concession speech Monday night in which she bowed out of the tight race for Arizona's Senate seat.

The laudatory reaction prompted widespread speculation that she might be leaving the door open for a future foray back into politics.

But with the current state of Arizona politics, there's a possible scenario wherein she could re-enter the scene sooner than expected -- and possibly become a colleague of the woman who just beat her in the last race.

McSally and now-Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema battled it out over the seat that was left open when Sen. Jeff Flake decided not to seek re-election.

Months after that campaign started, Sen. John McCain passed away, but that happened after the state deadline that would allow for his replacement to be elected as part of the 2018 midterms.

As a result, the governor was tasked with picking a temporary placeholder for McCain's seat. Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Sept. 4 that former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who served alongside McCain from 1995 to 2013, would take temporary control of McCain's seat.

That said, 76-year-old Kyl only committed to serving in McCain's seat through the remainder of this session of Congress, which ends on Jan. 3, 2019.

State law dictates that it will fall to Ducey, who was just re-elected, to appoint someone of McCain's same political party to hold the seat until the next general election.

As such, it's within reason and the law to think that Ducey could appoint McSally, who is a Republican like McCain was, to hold his seat until the 2020 election.

Neither Ducey's office nor McSally's campaign returned ABC News' requests for comment.

Richard Herrera, a political science professor at Arizona State University, said that the close nature of the recent Senate race could help make McSally a front-runner.

"I think it's very plausible," Herrera said.

"I would think she's the favorite," he added, noting that the close nature of the Senate race and McSally's support for President Donald Trump could be helpful advantages for her.

"She checks a lot of boxes," Herrera said.

And while the Senate race between McSally and Sinema did get nasty -- with McSally claiming during their debate that Sinema made treasonous comments -- McSally ended it on a gracious note, posting a kind video congratulating Sinema and saying that she "wish[ed] her all success" in the Senate.

Matthew Dowd, who was a strategist for George Bush's 2004 presidential campaign and the current political analyst for ABC News, said that McSally's concession speech "should be lauded."

"It is a good and necessary move in a bitter divisive environment. I always give the presumption to someone that they are being genuine, and being from the military I think McSally supports the democratic norms," Dowd said.

Democratic political strategist and former interim chairperson of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile retweeted McSally's video, writing "this is what civility looks like," and praising McSally later to ABC News.

"She clearly invoked the spirit of John McCain," Brazile said of McSally. "As a Veteran, she understands what it means to serve. Her calling continues."

Herrera also thought it could indicate a possible foothold for a future run.

"I would always lean towards strategic decision-making on the part of politicians, so I would say it's strategic looking forward," Herrera said. "Now, that doesn't mean it wasn't sincere."

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First Lady Melania Trump calls for the firing of deputy national security adviser

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a remarkable development Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump made a public call for the president's deputy national security adviser, Mira Ricardel, to be fired.

A statement released by her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said: “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

Even amid new rumbles about the potential impending departures of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and even Chief of Staff John Kelly, it is unusual for the normally discreet first lady to get so publicly involved in an administration staffing issues.

The first lady's bombshell statement was released not long after Ricardel was seen smiling as she stood behind President Trump at an early afternoon Diwali ceremony at the White House Tuesday.

Ricardel and Melania Trump's office most recently tangled over her solo trip to Africa. Mrs. Trump felt she had treated her staff disrespectfully, White House sources said, and Ricardel was seen as so difficult during the planning of the trip, according to sources, that the first lady’s team sought Kelly's guidance.

The National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC News she does not have any personnel announcements to make at this time.

Ricardel was recruited to the National Security Council by the president's national security adviser, John Bolton. According to the Wall Street Journal, the first lady’s office believed Ricardel was behind negative stories and was known to not get along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and at times sought to undermine him from within the White House.

Trump told ABC News’ Tom Llamas last month, during her first sit-down interview, that she shares her opinions about people she doesn’t trust in the administration with her husband.

“Do you think there's still people there that he can't trust?” Llamas asked.

“Yes,” the first lady said. She added, “You always need to watch your back.”

When asked Tuesday if he agrees with the first lady on Ricardel, Mattis told ABC News, "I don't comment on other people's staffing issues."

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Trump and his legal team met Monday to answer Mueller’s questions: Sources -- President Donald Trump is huddling with his lawyers this week to craft responses to list of written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, sources close to the president told ABC News on Tuesday.

Trump and his legal team met on Monday in Washington, D.C., to discuss the list of questions from Mueller, and were expected to reconvene on Tuesday, the sources added.

The questions, as ABC News has previously reported, center on alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 election cycle, which Mueller is tasked with investigating. The nearly year and a half long probe by the special counsel stems from allegations of Russia coordinating with members of the Trump presidential campaign.

Mueller and his team of prosecutors have indicted 32 individuals and three Russian businesses on charges ranging from computer hacking to obstruction of justice.

Those indictments have led to six guilty pleas and three people sentenced to prison.

Four former Trump campaign officials – including his onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort – are among those who have pleaded guilty.

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Trump planning shakeup, eyeing new chief of staff and DHS secretary: Sources

Alex Edelman- Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is considering yet another shakeup of his administration, preparing to remove Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and looking at possible replacements for Chief of Staff John Kelly, including Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. Nielsen, who became secretary at Homeland Security when John Kelly left DHS to become Trump's chief of staff, is expected to leave her role in the coming weeks and could be asked to resign, according to sources. However, Kelly is fighting to delay her departure, the sources said. The timeline for a shakeup remains unclear and the White House has not responded to a request for comment.

“The Secretary is honored to lead the men and women of DHS and is committed to implementing the President’s security-focused agenda to protect Americans from all threats and will continue to do so,” DHS spokesperson Tyler Houlton said in a statement Monday. The Washington Post first reported the news of Nielsen's potential departure. The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment about the potential changes. Meanwhile, Kelly's job is also uncertain and his fate has been in question for some time. Sources tell ABC News that within the last few weeks, the president has once again discussed Kelly’s fate with many of his top advisers; Kelly has continued to grow distant with the president, sources said.

This past summer, ABC News reported that Kelly had accepted the president’s request to remain as chief staff through 2020.

Trump has expressed significant interest in Ayers with sources describing the 36-year-old as the leading candidate to take over as Trump's chief of staff. Some sources close to the president describe Ayers taking Kelly’s place as a "done deal" while others caution nothing is certain until the president says so. Ayers has become close with the president and in the last week and has met with him about taking the job. Multiple sources say the president and Ayers had an extended conversation on election night in the White House while watching returns. Ayers' role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity during some of the key moments of the Trump presidency. Multiple sources tell ABC News Ayers has also grown close to the president's family, particularly Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, in recent months. President Trump has also complained about Kelly's lack of political acumen and has praised Ayers for his detailed political strategy for Pence's midterm election efforts. Ayers did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has previously wanted to fire Nielsen, but Kelly would frequently jump in and threaten to resign -- his threats delaying the move, sources have told ABC. They say there were times during the administration where Kelly and Nielsen even discussed leaving the administration together. The president has said privately for months he doesn't believe that Nielsen is doing enough to enforce stricter immigration policies. Just last month, there was a highly contentious confrontation between Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton over increased border crossings. Sources tell ABC News the fight had to do specifically with Nielsen's job performance. "There's no love lost between either of them," a senior administration official tells ABC News referring to Nielsen and Trump. "All that has kept Nielsen on was not her loyalty to the president but desire to protect the department from his whims and to let her people do their jobs."

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President Trump blames Secret Service for canceled visit to WWI cemetery in France after criticism

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump placed full blame for his canceled visit to a World War I cemetery in France over the weekend on the Secret Service, claiming that he suggested driving after it was deemed unsafe to take the presidential chopper during rainy weather but that the Secret Service said "NO."

While President Trump now says the Secret Service was behind the decision not to make a more than two-hour drive to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday that the president did not want to do the drive because of the disruption it would have caused to the people of Paris.

“Yesterday, because of near-zero visibility, Marine One was unable to fly, as had been planned. A car ride of two and a half hours, each way, would have required closures to substantial portions of the Paris roadways for the President’s motorcade, on short notice. President Trump did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people," Sanders said in a statement.

Chief of staff John Kelly and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford visited the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in President Trump's place.

While the president did not make it to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial on Saturday, he did deliver remarks honoring America's World War I fallen the following day at the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial.

During the remarks on Sunday, the president offered a shoutout to World War II in attendance, and at one point acknowledged one sitting under a shelter while he spoke during a light rain at the memorial site.

"You look so comfortable up there under cover while we are getting drenched," Trump joked during his speech at the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, a military cemetery in Suresnes, France where over 1,500 American soldiers were buried after World War I. "You're very smart people."

In addition to his defense of the canceled cemetery visit, President Trump issued a series of tweets critical of French President Emanuel Macron, who has previously been seen as President Trump's closest personal friend on the global stage.

Bashing the French president's approval ratings on Tuesday, the president tweeted "MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!"

The president's attacks on Macron come after the French president offered a veiled rebuke of President Trump during a speech over the weekend, declaring that nationalism is the opposite of patriotism. President Trump, meanwhile, has publicly labeled himself a nationalist and embraced the title.

"By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!" Trump says in a tweet, apparently firing back at Macron.

The president even weighed in on wine, one of France's most-prized industries, to complain that France does not engage in fair trade practices with the U.S. over the alcoholic beverage. President Trump does not drink alcohol himself, though his family business does own a winery.

A spokesperson for the Élysée Palace told ABC News "no comment" when asked whether there was a response to President Trump’s tweets.

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CNN sues President Trump, aides over removal of Jim Acosta's press pass

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- CNN and its chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta filed suit Tuesday against President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, the president's chief of staff John Kelly and the U.S. Secret Service, among others, over the suspension of Acosta's WHite House press credentials and demanded they be returned.

"The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process," CNN's communications team said in a press release.

In the complaint, filed in D.C. District Court, lawyers for CNN argued the "revocation of Acosta's credentials is only the beginning."

"This severe and unprecedented punishment is the culmination of years of hostility by President Trump against CNN and Acosta based on the contents of their reporting — an unabashed attempt to censor the press and exclude reporters from the White House who challenge and dispute the President’s point of view," CNN's lawyers wrote in the court documents.

The president "lacks the authority to quash" the First Amendment, the lawyers wrote, and access to the White House cannot be denied arbitrarily.

According to the lawsuit, CNN and Acosta aim to "enforce this constitutional commitment, restore Acosta’s well-deserved press credentials, and ensure that the press remains free to question the government and to report the business of the nation to the American people."

"This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit, Sanders responded Tuesday. "CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment," Sanders said in a statement. "After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions—each of which the President answered—he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters." "The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional," Sanders continued. "The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business.”

White House Correspondents' Association President Olivier Knox issued a statement supporting CNN's legal move, saying the White House should not have taken away Acosta's credentials in the first place.

"Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday. We continue to urge the Administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent. The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him," Knox said.

The White House suspended press access for Acosta after he and Trump engaged in a heated exchange during a press conference on Wednesday, one day after the midterm elections.

Acosta began by asking about a caravan of people from Central America the president spoke of frequently before the midterm election.

"Honestly, I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN, and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better," Trump told Acosta.

Acosta then asked the president a question about the Russia investigation. After a back-and-forth, the president responded: "That's enough." A White House intern attempted to take the microphone from Acosta, who kept a firm grip and, while gesticulating, his arm came into contact with the intern's arm, according to video of the exchange.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” Acosta told the intern during the encounter.

“I tell you what. CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them,” Trump said at the news conference. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

When Acosta returned to the White House later that evening, the Secret Service barred him from entering and took his credentials.

In a statement, Sanders said Acosta was banned from the grounds because he placed "his hands on" a White House intern during the press conference in the East Wing earlier in the day.

"President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration," Sanders said. "We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."

CNN quickly and plainly called Sanders' explanation a lie. "She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened," CNN said in a statement.

Many journalists came to Acosta's defense, calling the suspension of his credentials a "very bad sign" stemming from a fear of tough questioning, and tweeting photos of the exchange.

Read the full complaint here.

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