President Trump’s absence for the second year in a row from the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner may end up being the least controversial thing about Saturday night’s gathering of the White House press corps.
Chatter online amongst Washington, D.C., journalists and some in the administration’s orbit after the event was full of criticism for comedian Michelle Wolf, who was the evening’s headliner; criticism and soul-searching about the annual event itself; and an effort by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to pressure the leadership of the White House Correspondents’ Association into answering for Wolf’s vulgar, personal jabs leveled primarily at the president and his inner circle.
The comedian spoke for roughly 20 minutes to a ballroom full of Washington’s top journalists and political operatives in remarks too lewd in many respects to be repeated here. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote Wolf’s remarks “swerved from raunchy to downright nasty.”
“She was particularly hard on the women associated with Trump,” Farhi also wrote, adding “several cracks about [White House press secretary] Sarah Huckabee Sanders landed poorly.” (Courtesy of two of Farhi’s colleagues at the Post, here’s a list of Wolf’s “harshest” jokes.) And Politico observed of Wolf’s performance that “it was a risque and uneven routine at first met with laughs but often greeted by awkward silence.”
The comedic routine laced with sexual innuendo and, at times, dominated by outright vulgarities was directed primarily at Republicans and conservatives — a fact not lost on those in the room who expressed their displeasure on Twitter afterward.
“My wife @mercedesschlapp and I walked out early from the wh correspondents dinner. Enough of elites mocking all of us,” Matt Schlapp posted on Twitter just before 11 p.m. Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and his wife, Mercedes, is part of the White House’s communications team.
Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus called the night an “R/X rated spectacle that started poorly and ended up in the bottom of the canyon. Another victory for @realDonaldTrump for not attending and proving his point once again. The room was uncomfortable. Trump lovers and even a large number of Trump haters were pretty miserable.”
Spicer’s critique was more pointed. “Tonight’s #WHCD was a disgrace,” the former Trump spokesman said on Twitter.
The criticism was joined by some well-known political journalists who sounded off both about Wolf’s remarks and the nature of the event more broadly.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was the particular target of harsh treatment by Wolf — as Sanders sat on the dais not far from the lectern where Wolf was speaking. Afterward, some of the journalists from outlets known to spar with the White House or be on the receiving end of pointed attacks directly from the president spoke out on Sanders’ behalf.
“That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive,” tweeted Maggie Haberman of The New York Times. (Haberman said on Twitter that she did not attend the event in person but had watched it on TV.)
“Lots of critics but she has always been decent and professional to me — if not entirely forthcoming,” The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey posted on Twitter about Sanders, attaching Haberman’s tweet about the Trump spokeswoman.
“The spirit of the event had always been jokes that singe but don’t burn,” said Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News, “Reporters who work with her daily appreciate that @presssec was there.” Like Dawsey, O’Donnell included Haberman’s tweet praising Sanders’ composure under fire.
As Haberman’s tweet had, Baker’s set off a series of responses, subtweets and amens from fellow journalists.
“Couldn’t agree more,” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny posted on Twitter, “So much important and amazing journalism this year — that should be the focus, when truth matters and is needed more than ever. It was an embarrassment in the room and surely to the audience at home.”
“He’s talking about the White House Correspondents Assn dinner,” tweeted Fox News political analyst Brit Hume. “He’s right,” Hume said, attaching Baker’s tweet.
“The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a deeply flawed event that doesn’t do what it aspires to do and is serious need of retooling,” wrote Robert Yoon, a political research expert and former longtime employee of CNN’s political unit in D.C., wrote online, also referencing Baker’s tweet.
Other journalists saw broader political implications stemming from the controversial remarks.
“Michelle Wolf — and the WHCD — really played into Trump’s hand tonight. Trump is vulgar and mean-spirited, but that doesn’t mean that Wolf needed to be the same,” tweeted D.C. fixture and longtime political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
John Ward of Yahoo News called the comedy routine “a political gift to the Trump admin[istration].”
Echoing Ward, Rothenberg and Baker, Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press saw very specific implications for journalists, especially those working and reporting in predominantly Republican states. Saturday night’s event “made the chasm between journalists and those who don’t trust us, even wider,” Kinnard tweeted. “And those of us based in the red states who work hard every day to prove our objectivity will have to deal with it.”
In a trio of tweets early Sunday morning Spicer sought to elicit a response from the White House Correspondents’ Association to the criticism Wolf had received.
Comedian Kathy Griffin, who has herself been embroiled in controversy over her past comments about the president, took up Wolf’s defense and responded to Baker and Zeleny.
“Then don’t have a comic do a roast,” Griffin told the two longtime White House reporters on Twitter, “If you want to focus on the journalism do a boring awards show. Journalism is all about the 1st amendment..If you don’t see the import of what @michelleisawolf did tonight then you don’t get it.”
For her part, Wolf responded to Spicer calling the event a “disgrace” with a simple “Thank you!” on Twitter. And the comedian also challenged Haberman’s critique, suggesting The New York Times White House reporter was harboring unspoken concerns about Sanders’ appearance.
The controversy over Wolf seemed to steal headlines which the president had seemingly tried to steal for himself by absenting himself from the dinner for a second consecutive year and going to Michigan for a campaign rally instead.
In his remarks there earlier Saturday evening, Trump had called the press “very dishonest people” and “fake news.” He called the dinner in D.C. “phony” and said he had much preferred to be in Washington Township, Mich., rather than back in the nation’s capital in a ballroom full of the journalists who cover him and his administration.
He told the enthusiastic crowd of supporters that had he been at the dinner in the other Washington, he would’ve been forced to smile through attacks on him or face negative stories afterward about not being a good sport while being roasted by Wolf.
“You know, there’s no winning,” he said over cheers.
Back in D.C., Matt and Mercedes Schlapp articulated Trump’s concerns more philosophically — concerns widely shared by conservatives across the country who see themselves as losing out in a broader culture war despite their electoral victories in the Trump era.
“America was watching and it’s why they hate the swamp,” Matt Schlapp said in a tweet addressed to Sanders.
“It’s why America hates the out of touch leftist media elite,” Mercedes Schlapp tweeted, referencing her husband’s tweet about “the swamp.”
Court Orders White House to give Jim Acosta his hard pass back
Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly sided with CNN on Friday, ordering the White House to reinstate chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass.
The ruling was an initial victory for CNN in its lawsuit against President Trump and several top aides.
The lawsuit alleges that CNN and Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the suspension of Acosta’s press pass.
Kelly did not rule on the underlying case on Friday. But he granted CNN’s request for a temporary restraining order.
This result means that Acosta will have his access to the White House restored for at least a short period of time. The judge said while explaining his decision that he believes that CNN and Acosta are likely to prevail in the case overall.
CNN is also asking for “permanent relief,” meaning a declaration from the judge that Trump’s revocation of Acosta’s press pass was unconstitutional. This legal conclusion could protect other reporters from retaliation by the administration.
“The revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning,” CNN’s lawsuit alleged, pointing out that Trump has threatened to strip others’ press passes too.
That is one of the reasons why most of the country’s major news organizations have backed CNN’s lawsuit, turning this into an important test of press freedom.
But the judge will rule on all of that later. Further hearings are likely to take place in the next few weeks, according to CNN’s lawyers.
CNN sues President Trump for banning reporter Jim Acosta
CNN is filing a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s access to the White House.
The lawsuit is a response to the White House’s suspension of Acosta’s press pass, known as a Secret Service “hard pass,” last week. The suit alleges that Acosta and CNN’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the ban.
The suit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning, a CNN spokeswoman confirmed.
Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s hard pass away last Wednesday. The officer is identified as John Doe in the suit, pending his identification.
The six defendants are all named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta’s suspension.
Last Wednesday, shortly after Acosta was denied entry to the White House grounds, Sanders defended the unprecedented step by claiming that he had behaved inappropriately at a presidential news conference. CNN and numerous journalism advocacy groups rejected that assertion and said his pass should be reinstated.
On Friday, CNN sent a letter to the White House formally requesting the immediate reinstatement of Acosta’s pass and warning of a possible lawsuit, the network confirmed.
In a statement on Tuesday morning, CNN said it is seeking a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that Acosta can return to the White House right away, and a ruling from the court preventing the White House from revoking Acosta’s pass in the future.
“CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court,” the statement read. “It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. 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. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”
CNN also asserted that other news organizations could have been targeted by the Trump administration this way, and could be in the future.
“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” the network said. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
Acosta has continued to do part of his job, contacting sources and filing stories, but he has been unable to attend White House events or ask questions in person — a basic part of any White House correspondent’s role.
Acosta is on a previously scheduled vacation this week. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.
On CNN’s side, CNN Worldwide chief counsel David Vigilante is joined by two prominent attorneys, Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson. Both men are partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Last week, before he was retained by CNN, Boutrous tweeted that the action against Acosta “clearly violates the First Amendment.” He cited the Sherrill case.
“This sort of angry, irrational, false, arbitrary, capricious content-based discrimination regarding a White House press credential against a journalist quite clearly violates the First Amendment,” he wrote.
David McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer at The New York Times, said instances of news organizations suing a president are extremely rare.
Past examples are The New York Times v. U.S., the famous Supreme Court case involving the Pentagon Papers in 1971; and CNN’s 1981 case against the White House and the broadcast networks, when CNN sued to be included in the White House press pool.
The backdrop to this new suit, of course, is Trump’s antipathy for CNN and other news outlets. He regularly derides reporters from CNN and the network as a whole.
Abrams posited on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that CNN might be reluctant to sue because the president already likes to portray the network as his enemy. Now there will be a legal case titled CNN Inc. versus President Trump.
But, Abrams said, “this is going to happen again,” meaning other reporters may be banned too.
“Whether it’s CNN suing or the next company suing, someone’s going to have to bring a lawsuit,” he said, “and whoever does is going to win unless there’s some sort of reason.”
US attorney general Jeff Sessions fired by Trump
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned as the country’s chief law enforcement officer at President Donald Trump’s request.
Sessions announced his plan to resign in a letter to the White House on Wednesday.
Trump announced in a tweet that Sessions’ chief of staff Matt Whitaker would become the new acting attorney general.
The attorney general had endured more than a year of stinging and personal criticism from Trump over his recusal from the investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice.
1973-1975 – Practices law in Alabama.
1975-1977 – Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
1981-1993 – US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
1986 – President Ronald Reagan nominates Sessions to become a federal judge. The Senate Judiciary Committee opposes the nomination following testimony that Sessions made racist remarks and called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.”
1995-1997- Alabama Attorney General. During this time, an Alabama judge accuses Sessions of prosecutorial misconduct related to the handling of evidence in a case but ultimately, Sessions is not disciplined for ethics violations.
1996 – Elected to the US Senate. Re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2014.
1997–February 2017 – Republican senator representing Alabama.
February 2, 2009 – Votes in favor of the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general.
April 23, 2015 – Votes against the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general.
February 28, 2016 – Becomes the first sitting US senator to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
January 3, 2017 – An NAACP sit-in to protest the nomination of Sessions as US attorney general ends when six people are arrested at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama, office.
February 8, 2017 – After 30 hours of debate, the US Senate confirms Sessions as attorney general by a 52-47 vote.
March 1, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions failed to disclose pre-election meetings with the top Russian diplomat in Washington. Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.
March 2, 2017 – Sessions recuses himself from any involvement in a Justice Department probe into links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
March 10, 2017 – The DOJ abruptly announces the firing of 46 US attorneys, including Preet Bharara of New York. Bharara said that during the transition, Trump asked him to stay on during a meeting at Trump Tower.
April 3, 2017 – The Department of Justice releases a memorandum ordering a review of consent decrees and other police reforms overseen by the federal government in response to complaints of civil rights abuses and public safety issues. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Justice Department interventions in local police matters.
July 21, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions discussed policy-related matters with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak before the 2016 election, according to intelligence intercepts. Sessions had previously claimed that he did not talk about the campaign or relations with Russia during his meetings with Kislyak.
October 4, 2017 – In a memo to all federal prosecutors, Sessions says that a 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination and the department will take this new position in all “pending and future matters.”
November 14, 2017 – During a House judiciary committee hearing, Sessions says he did not lie under oath in earlier hearings regarding communications with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, and denies participating in any collusion with Russia. Sessions also says the DOJ will consider investigations into Hillary Clinton and alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One.
January 4, 2018 – Sessions announces that the DOJ is rescinding an Obama-era policy of non-interference with states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The reversal frees up federal prosecutors to pursue cases in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
March 21, 2018 – Sessions issues a statement encouraging federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for certain drug-related crimes, as mandated by law. Seeking capital punishment in drug cases is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to combat opioid abuse.
May 7, 2018 – Sessions announces a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, warning that parents could be separated from children if they try to cross to the US from Mexico. “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”
May 30, 2018 – Trump again expresses regret for choosing Sessions to lead the Justice Department. In a tweet, he quotes a remark from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) who said that the president could have picked someone else as attorney general. “I wish I did!,” Trump tweeted. He had first said that he was rethinking his choice of Sessions as attorney general during a July 2017 interview with the New York Times.
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