Playboy reporter Brian Karem on Tuesday sued President Donald Trump and press secretary Stephanie Grisham after the administration suspended his credentials, asking for a court order to have his hard pass restored.
Grisham announced on Aug. 16 that she had decided to suspend the reporter’s hard pass, a long-term credential that allows journalists to enter and leave the White House with ease, for 30 days over a confrontation that happened over a month ago.
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In the suit, attorneys for Karem, a senior White House correspondent for Playboy Magazine and a CNN contributor, accuse Grisham of violating his due process rights by temporarily revoking his hard pass based on unwritten rules. The suit also faults the White House for giving Karem what they say is an insufficient amount of time to challenge a “preliminary decision” to suspend his pass for 30 days and contends that the decision was already final by the time Karem was notified of it.
The altercation at the heart of the legal battle centers on Karem and conservative radio talk show host Sebastian Gorka and took place several weeks earlier. On July 11, Karem and Gorka, who previously served in the Trump administration, got into a shouting match in the Rose Garden at the conclusion of a White House event. They traded insults, which were caught on video and by photographers. Karem’s complaint includes a photo of Gorka yelling at him.
Video of the incident shows Karem asking Gorka in the Rose Garden to “come on over here and talk to me, brother, or we can go outside and have a long conversation“ in response to Gorka calling out to Karem sarcastically. Gorka then crosses the Rose Garden to get closer to Karem.
Gorka at one point shouted: “You’re a punk! You’re not a journalist, you’re a punk!” to which Karem responded: “Hey, Gorka, get a job!” Even Trump weighed in on the clash over Twitter, asserting that Gorka “Wins Big, No Contest!”
Attorneys for Karem point out that Grisham herself cited a breach of “widely-shared understandings and norms of media professionalism” and “decorum” surrounding White House events as the reason for revoking Karem’s pass and contend that she acknowledged that Karem had not broken any explicit rules.
Grisham said Tuesday in an email that she hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit.
In a letter to Karem on Aug. 2, Grisham said she “had not previously thought that a set of explicit rules was necessary to govern behavior by members of the press at White House events,” and noted that the president concurred with her preliminary decision. She gave Karem one business day to “contest” the decision, and said that she would consider his appeal before making a final decision.
That decision came on Aug. 16, after Karem and his lawyer met with Grisham and deputy White House counsel.
However, the suit argues, the White House violated Karem’s due process rights because it “did not provide Karem an opportunity to be heard before making the ‘preliminary decision’ to suspend his hard pass. The decision was improperly predetermined, as Grisham sought and obtained presidential approval for the sanction before even notifying Karem of the charge, let alone hearing his defense.”
Karem‘s legal team also alleges that Grisham‘s account of the Rose Garden altercation relied “on a skewed and erroneous second-by-second account of Karem’s purported conduct.“
“That Grisham must rely on a 13-page analysis of Karem’s every movement, comment, gesture, and facial expression in reaching her determination is a reflection of the absence of any clear, published, pre-existing standards of conduct that Karem violated,“ they charge. “In the absence of such standards, the determination to suspend Karem’s pass came down to the unbounded post hoc discretion of one person regarding what conduct amounts to a breach of ‘decorum,‘ eyebrow movements and all.“
Karem’s attorneys also allege that White House press secretaries don’t have the statutory authority to revoke a reporter’s credentials, arguing that power rests with the Secret Service.
On Thursday evening, Grisham said she made the right call.
“I stand by my decision to temporarily suspend Mr. Karem’s hard pass for 30 days due to his behavior at a Rose Garden event,” she said in an email.
“The purpose of a hard pass is to provide access to the White House so members of the press can report and ask questions of officials who are taking questions. Mr. Karem did not use the access granted to him for journalistic purposes — in fact, the President had left the event. Instead, he used his press pass to insult invited guests and make comments that threatened to escalate into a physical confrontation to the point that the Secret Service intervened.“
Karem’s situation is the second high-profile instance of the White House yanking a reporter’s credentials. In November, then-press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders without warning revoked the press pass of CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta after a heated exchange at a news conference and a scuffle with an intern over a microphone. A federal judge quickly ordered Acosta‘s pass reinstated after Acosta and CNN sued, ruling that the White House had violated his right to due process by revoking his pass.
Then in May, the Trump administration imposed new rules to cut down on the number of journalists eligible for “hard” passes.
Karem is being represented by Theodore J. Boutrous, who also represented Acosta in his case.
“We are confident that the Administration’s latest punitive and lawless action against a journalist will not stand, and we look forward to our day in court,” Boutrous said in a statement.
The White House Correspondents‘ Association said after Karem‘s pass was suspended that it was “deeply concerned“ by the move, warning that it “could have a chilling effect on working journalists. As we have said before, we believe everyone should conduct themselves professionally at the White House.”