Donald Trump has an unprecedented number of legal entanglements compared to any previous president. Lawsuits have been brought by individuals, companies, and state attorneys general against him personally, his administration’s policies, the Trump Organization, and the president’s charity, the Trump Foundation.
On Nov. 19, three Democratic senators sued Trump over his appointment of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff Matt Whitaker to replace Sessions as the Justice Department’s acting head. The senators claim that Trump violated the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, which mandates all principal officers of the U.S., such as cabinet officials, ambassadors, and federal judges, pass through a Senate confirmation process.
Trump forced Sessions to resign on Nov. 7, largely thought to be over Sessions’s recusal in March 2017 from any investigation involving Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. That recusal in turn led to the appointment of a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller. The normal order of succession for the top Justice Department post would be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who set the process in motion for Mueller’s investigation and who oversees it. Rosenstein passed Senate confirmation for his deputy role in April 2017.
Whitaker is seen as a Trump loyalist, and both in appearances and writing on CNN and in tweets before he joined the Justice Department, repeatedly spoke out against any effort by Mueller to investigate matters outside very narrow confines. Whitaker also described strategies to defund the Mueller probe. Democrats and others who support the scope of the Mueller probe believe Trump selected Whitaker over Rosenstein, because Whitaker would take steps to squelch the investigation or even fire Mueller if asked by Trump.
Trump is also involved in several criminal investigations at the state and federal level, some of which are linked to his businesses and charity. Any charges against could trigger a confrontation over the constitutionality of prosecuting a sitting president in the judicial system.
Below is compendium of Trump’s legal perils—and those of his close associates and family members that could spill over onto him. Fortune will update them as suits and cases are brought, litigated, and concluded:
Can Trump Be Sued or Charged with a Crime While in Office?
The Constitution doesn’t state whether a sitting president may be charged with crimes. The current interpretation at the Department of Justice, via an opinion in 2000 by its Office of Legal Counsel, is that a president may not be indicted while in office. However, some legal experts believe an indictment would be defensible as constitutional as long as a trial were delayed until the president left office.
Special counsel Robert Mueller may not wade into this battle, since his investigation’s authorization came from the Department of Justice. But if he believed Trump had committed crimes, Mueller could prepare evidence and present it to Congress to consider impeachment.
A sitting president cannot be sued as an individual for official actions taken while in office, courts have decided. But a federally filed lawsuit that relates only to unofficial or personal behavior could proceed, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994’s Jones v. Clinton lawsuit. In that decision, the Supreme Court didn’t determine whether a state lawsuit might proceed, and indicated that different constitutional issues, including federalism, would have to be decided.
Beyond Trump, many of his family members and dozens to hundreds of business and campaign associates face scrutiny. Some are under criminal investigation. As president, Trump has unlimited pardon power over federal crimes, and could preemptively pardon individuals, even while an investigation is underway. (That does, however, compel them to testify without immunity in other cases, as they face no legal jeopardy.)
So far, Trump has exercised his pardon power erratically and against longstanding norms. Some expecting pardons along with a few people he has mentioned by name, remain in limbo. But it’s worth noting that he cannot issue pardons against charges or convictions in state courts.
Appointment of Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General
On Nov. 19, three Democratic senators who serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee—Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, and Sheldon Whitehouse—filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging that his interim appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general violated the Constitution’s Appointments clause.
Whitaker started as Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff in September 2017 after stints running for the senate, in private business, as a U.S. Attorney, and a CNN commentator. Before and during his time at CNN, Whitaker spoke out against the Mueller investigation’s basis, scope, and future on the air. He also wrote editorials and tweeted about the matter, including stating methods of halting the investigation without firing Mueller.
Political observers see Whitaker as a strong Trump loyalist, and his appointment concerned those who believe Trump’s end game is to have his attorney general fire Mueller at his request. Sessions recused himself in March 2017 from any Russian investigations, and Trump likely forced his resignation on Nov. 7 because of that. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is responsible for the Russian probe and supervises its special counsel, and is generally believed to unlikely to follow any presidential order he believes would hinder the investigation’s proper scope and conclusion.
The lawsuit doesn’t address any of Whitaker’s potential actions. Rather, it relies on a reading of the Constitution and related laws that require principal officers, such as the attorney general and federal judges, to receive confirmation by the Senate before filling the role. Rosenstein would normally have been appointed in the acting role, and would not have required a new confirmation process, because he received Senate approval for his deputy role.
The White House said the appointment is constitutional, and lawful under a statute that governs temporary appoints to vacant positions, relying on a memo justifying that stance written by the Justice Department.
In addition to the senators lawsuit, two additional lawsuits that named Sessions as an ostensible defendant in suing the government also attempted to have Whitaker’s even temporary occupancy of the attorney general position declared invalid. The state of Maryland on Nov. 13 asked a federal judge to replace Whitaker with Rosenstein, with the state’s attorney general arguing that Whitaker can’t direct the defense of the administration in a lawsuit raised by Maryland and others over the Affordable Care Act. An attorney representing a gun rights case before the Supreme Court asked the court on Nov. 16 to declare Rosenstein attorney general as well.
What’s at stake: Democrats allege that if Whitaker is allowed to remain legally in his position, it provides Trump and future presidents with an end-run around the Senate advise-and-consent role.
What would need to be true: A judge would have to agree that the appointment doesn’t meet the test under a 1998 vacancies law or violates the constitution.
The president’s defense: The appointment is legal and customary, with the Justice Department providing over 150 similar examples, though largely from before the Civil War. The last time this situation arose with the attorney general’s position was in the 1880s.
Where it stands now: The senate case and the two others were only recently filed.
Russian Conspiracy Investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller
The Mueller investigation is examining whether President Trump or those associated with him engaged in a conspiracy with elements of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Legally, conspiracy is a plan between two or more parties to purposely commit an unlawful act. It’s worth noting that conspiracy charges don’t require that the desired outcome be achieved.
Most of Trump’s legal troubles stem from Mueller’s investigation. The FBI was already investigating Russia’s involvement in emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and disseminated to the media and the public. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, found to have omitted contacts with Russia during the election campaign from his confirmation disclosures, could conceivably be one of the targets of the investigation. As a result, he has recused himself from overseeing its proceedings. His deputy, Rod Rosenstein hired the special counsel.
The scope of Mueller’s investigation is broad and covers any connection between anyone associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as any matters uncovered during that investigation. Mueller also has the right to prosecute federal crimes that emerge from his team’s work.
So far, eight people closely associated with the campaign or with former campaign manager Paul Manafort have been charged. Prosecutors were successful in each of those cases: seven defendants pleaded guilty, while Manafort was convicted of 8 out of 18 charges in the first of two trials he initially faced. To avoid the second trial, Manafort pleaded guilty to a reduced number of charges, while also agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation and forfeit millions of dollars.
Mueller has also charged 25 Russian and three companies, as well as one American identity thief, who pleaded guilty. Russia lacks an extradition policy with the United States. In addition, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his involvement with a London-based professor who told him that Russia had hacked and stolen thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 Democratic presidential rival.
What’s at stake: Trump could be charged with or accused of an international criminal conspiracy. The maximum federal sentence for conspiracy is five years, even if it involves multiple elements, but other charges could be involved.
What would need to be true: Evidence would need to connect Trump to direct participation in the alleged conspiracy.
The president’s defense: A “witch hunt” and there was “no collusion.”
Where it stands now: No charges have yet been filed. All we know is what has been leaked to newspapers or discussed by Trump and his attorneys.
Obstruction of Justice by President Trump
Due to Session’s conflicts with the Russian investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein wrote a memo used as part of the public justification for the firing of then-FBI chief James Comey. But in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump publicly said part of the reason for firing Comey was to shut down the investigation into Russian meddling. As a result of Trump’s firing Comey, his attempts to get Sessions to reverse his recusal, and his public statements about witnesses and the investigation, Mueller is reportedly examining whether Trump obstructed justice.
The revelations about Rosenstein’s alleged concerns about Trump’s motivations after Rosenstein’s memo became public were based partly on notes taken by top-level FBI deputy Andrew McCabe, who was fired in March 2018.
The New York Times reported on Sept. 21 that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed wearing a “wire” (or having FBI candidates for the top post wear one) to record the president in secret to determine more details about his firing of FBI head James Comey. Rosenstein also allegedly raised the possibility of enlisting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. Rosenstein has issued denials of the Times report, and appeared close to resigning later that week. However, he remains in place days later as the process to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has dominated the White House’s attention.
What’s at stake: Trump could be charged with or accused of criminal obstruction. Each separate form of conspiracy (Trump could have committed three separate kinds) is subject to a fine and up to five years in prison.
What would need to be true: The burden to prove obstruction is extremely high and constrained by Supreme Court decisions, so Mueller would need explicit and extensive evidence in making his case. That may include evidence that what Trump said publicly or how he acted privately affected an official proceeding, such as Trump allegedly asking Comey to not investigate Michael Flynn. He could also show that Trump destroyed records, like tapes, that would have led to an investigation.
The president’s defense: The president and his lawyers claim that his public statements are opinions protected by the First Amendment, not explicit direct actions that would constitute obstruction. “It’s a matter of interpretation,” said Giuliani in May.
Where it stands now: No charges have yet been filed. All we know is what has been leaked to newspapers or discussed by Trump and his attorneys.
Michael Cohen Fallout: Tax Evasion, Fraud, and Campaign Violations
Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal attorney, who was widely acknowledged to be his “fixer,” pleaded guilty on Aug. 21 to eight criminal charges referred by Mueller to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). While some charges relate to his own actions, his pleas swept in the president because Cohen implicated Trump directly. Cohen admitted to making two payments to adult-film stars to influence the election by preventing them from speaking publicly. Cohen alleges the payments were made at the direction of Trump, named as “Individual-1” in the court filing. Cohen may also face state charges, some of which could implicate the president in fraud or financial misdeeds.
Federal prosecutors are now also looking into violations of campaign laws by anyone in the Trump Organization, the firm that manages the president’s properties and licenses his name. This could sweep in his children and other long-time associates.
What’s at stake: Trump, his family, and associates could be charged with or accused of violations of campaign finance laws and false financial disclosures. The specific crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty can result in fines and up to five years in prison.
What would need to be true: Cohen’s guilty plea doesn’t prove Trump’s guilt, but prosecutors require proof of a crime to accept a plea, and thus have evidence that hasn’t been released to the public. To charge Trump, prosecutors would need to document Trump’s direct involvement and, in some cases, prove his intent to violate the law. Giuliani appears to have admitted that Trump knew.
The president’s defense: Trump and his surrogates have widely derided Cohen’s credibility and downplayed his relationship with the president. Praising Manafort after his conviction, Trump tweeted, “unlike Michael Cohen, [Manafort] refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’”
Where it stands now: Cohen will cooperate with federal prosecutors, and no further charges have been made.
Non-Disclosure Lawsuits by Stormy Daniels; Defamation Suit Dismissed
Adult-film actress and exotic dancer Stephanie Clifford (better known as Stormy Daniels) says she and President Trump had a short affair in 2006. In October 2016, Cohen, acting on behalf of Trump, paid Clifford $130,000 to agree to not disclose any details. Clifford said she accepted the money out of fear for her personal safety.
Clifford filed two lawsuits against Trump. First, she sued to have the non-disclosure agreement voided. Second, she sued Trump for defamation following his public statements about her.
The first suit has been suspended because Cohen, who was added as a defendant, was facing overlapping criminal charges. A judge declined to let it proceed in April while Cohen was still under indictment.
But Cohen’s guilty pleas include an admission that the money paid to Clifford constitutes an unlawful corporate contribution and an excessive campaign contribution. Cohen also stated that he made the payment at the direction of Trump in order to influence the election. Those criminal admissions don’t necessarily affect the outcome of the litigation, but in early September, Cohen’s shell company that managed the payoff and Trump through his attorneys filed statements with the court that they wouldn’t enforce the agreement.
Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, said on Twitter that Trump “is now pulling a legal stunt to try and “fix it” so that we can’t depose Trump and present evidence to the American people about what happened.”
The judge presiding over the second lawsuit, covering defamation, dismissed it on Oct. 16, noting that Daniels had presented herself publicly as an adversary to the president. The judge said Trump replied with “rhetorical hyperbole” that fits within the normal constraints of protected political speech under the first amendment. Following the dismissal, the president referred to Daniels as “Horseface” on Twitter. Avenatti filed notice of intention to appeal, so the suit isn’t yet finished.
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Danials lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees.” @FoxNews Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018
What’s at stake: Not much more than vindication. But even if her non-disclosure case fails, Trump and others could be forced to sit for depositions, some of which could become public and could cause more legal headaches for the president.
What would need to be true: In the first case, the non-disclosure agreement may have been invalid from the start, as Trump never signed it. In the second, were an appeals court to send it back for litigation and rejected the judge’s logic about hyperbole, Daniels would still need to show that Trump’s statements were made recklessly and he knew them to be untrue, because she is a public figure.
The president’s defense: While Trump and his representatives have denied various elements of the story, they also regularly produce new explanations or confirm portions of it. It’s unclear what defense they would mount in the civil proceeding.
Where it stands now: The first case remains active, but seemingly on hold until Cohen’s sentencing. If a judge ruled that the non-disclosure provision was inactive, that case could be dismissed (although Clifford would likely be able to appeal). The defamation suit is on notice for appeal, but the appeal hasn’t yet been filed.
First Amendment Violations by PEN America over Threats to Bezos, Amazon, CNN, and Others
The literary and human-rights group, PEN America, sued the president on Oct. 16 over his statements, threats, and actions that they alleged chill and suppress the expression of free speech. The group cited a number of examples.
They point to Trump as candidate and president expressing his displeasure with the Washington Post‘s coverage of him by threatening its owner, Jeff Bezos, and his company, Amazon, in a variety of ways. This includes reported attempts to have the postmaster general dramatically increase the rate it charges to handle Amazon packages. PEN also cites Trump’s behavior around CNN, again related to his unhappiness with its reporting on him, and the Justice Department’s suit to prevent a merger between AT&T and CNN parent company Time Warner.
The group doesn’t want money (beyond its legal fees being repaid), but rather wants a court to tell Trump that he cannot personally or have others in government “retaliate against, intimidate, or otherwise constrain speech critical of him or his Administration.”
What’s at stake: Trump’s ability to use his position and power to attack individual members of the press, publications, and owners solely based on their reporting.
What would need to be true: A judge would have to agree that PEN has standing to sue (that it or its members were harmed), and then in a trial, Trump’s behavior would have to be shown to have violated constitutional protections.
The president’s defense: The White House hasn’t responded to this suit, but in the past, his representatives and media surrogates have said the president uses his statements for effect, and hasn’t acted on what’s he said. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican House member, told CNN in June, ” President Trump has a way of using hyperbole in order to achieve strategic advantage.”
Where it stands now: The suit was only recently filed.
Emoluments Cases Brought by Maryland and Washington, D.C., and by Democrats
Two clauses in the Constitution forbid the president from receiving things of value, effectively barring officials from enriching themselves as a benefit of holding office. They’re effectively anti-corruption rules. The first (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) prohibits anyone holding federal office—including the president—from receiving money, gifts, compensation (“emoluments,” or pay for services), or titles from foreign governments unless the U.S. Congress approves. The second (Article II, Section 1, Clause 7) declares the president will receive a set salary for his term of office. But he or she can’t receive compensation of any other kind from the U.S.
Trump faces two lawsuits on these grounds. The attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., have sued the president over emoluments, because he never divested himself of his financial interests in the Trump Organization, which receives payments from foreign governments for services, such as room rentals and events at Trump-owned hotels. They maintain this constitutes a violation of both clauses. The right to sue in this suit is that other businesses in D.C. and Maryland suffer as a result of foreign governments directing spending to the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
Nearly 200 congressional Democrats have filed a separate suit over the foreign emoluments clause, alleging that Trump has bypassed necessary consent from Congress for a variety of profit and reward he has received, including from hotel rentals, sales of property in other countries, and trademarks awarded by other governments.
The Trump Organization said it would give up profits from its hotels related to fees received by foreign governments to avoid a constitutional conflict, and made its first donation to the U.S. Treasury in February 2018 of over $150,000. However, it provided no accounting of how it had reached that number.
The case continues to progress despite arguments by Trump’s attorneys. On Nov. 2., the federal judge in charge of the case rejected an attempt to put the case on hold while Trump’s legal team pursues an appeal to a higher court. The judge ordered discovery to advance, and gave the plaintiffs 20 days to present a plan for what they want. He had previously ruled that only financial data from the Trump International Hotel could be requested.
What’s at stake: The issue of emoluments has rarely been raised, but Trump’s situation is unprecedented. The judges in each or both cases could order Trump to stop receiving emoluments, and could require his company to divest itself of the hotel properties and trademarks among other remedies. Win or lose, the cases could force Trump to provide his tax returns, among other financial documents.
What would need to be true: In both cases, a judge would need to rule in the trial over what, exactly, emoluments are.
The president’s defense: Spokespeople and lawyers consistently maintain Trump is not violating either emoluments clause, by maintaining that the clauses are limited in scope or not applicable to the president’s business earnings, and that the domestic clause in particular refers solely to salary, not profits or other rewards.
Where it stands now: In July, a federal judge agreed to let the Maryland and D.C. case move forward and ruled further on Nov. 2 to proceed with discovery. In September, a different federal judge advanced the Democrats lawsuit. Both cases, if they reach trial, will almost certainly be appealed and ultimately reach the Supreme Court. Two emoluments cases centering on the same topic were dismissed for lack of standing in December 2017.
Self-Dealing and Mismanagement of the Trump Foundation
The New York State Attorney Barbara Underwood has accused the Donald J. Trump Foundation of a variety of crimes, from a lack of oversight to illegal political coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign. The criminal lawsuit, filed in June, cited many instances of self-dealing in which charity directors allegedly engaged in transactions by spending the nonprofit’s money for their own interests, such as purchasing services from the Trump Organization, paying personal legal obligations (such as lawsuit settlements), and serving political ends.
The investigation was started by Underwood’s predecessor, Eric Schneiderman. (Schneiderman resigned in May after he faced a domestic abuse and sexual abuse allegations.)
The Eric Trump Foundation is also under investigation, but no action has yet been taken. Eric Trump’s charity primarily donated money to St. Jude’s Hospital, but in later years, investigative reporting revealed allegedly false information provided to donors and apparent self-dealing.
What’s at stake: The state of New York seeks the disbandment of the Trump Foundation, restitution of $2.8 million that was allegedly spent improperly, and fines. In addition, Trump would be barred for 10 years from serving as the director of a charity in New York, while his children who were officers—Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—would be barred for one year. That could affect some of their current charitable commitments. The attorney general also referred evidence to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission to investigate “possible violations” of federal law.
What would need to be true: Any significant portion of the lengthy list of specific illegal behavior alleged in the suit. Many of these incidents have received extensive media coverage, including the publication of receipts, agreements, and canceled checks.
The president’s defense: In tweets, Trump accused the “sleazy New York Democrats” and their “disgraced” former attorney general Schneiderman as baselessly suing a foundation that he alleges paid out more than it took in. He said he would not settle the lawsuit.
Where it stands now: The lawsuit proceeds through discovery and into court.
State Tax Law Violations by the Trump Foundation
New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance is also reportedly looking into state tax law violations by the foundation, and could refer the matter for prosecution by Attorney General Underwood. This might put the lawsuit on hold, while the criminal investigation goes forward.
What’s at stake: These violations could result in either fines, prison time, or both for some of Trump’s children and others associated with the foundation responsible for tax filings and payments. Based on Supreme Court rulings, it’s unclear if Trump could be indicted or face trial on state charges while in office.
What would need to be true: The Trump Foundation violated state tax law.
The president’s defense: There has been no specific response to this report of an investigation.
Where it stands now: Nothing official is known, as if an investigation is active, the outcome hasn’t been disclosed yet.
Racketeering Lawsuit Alleges Duping Vulnerable Investors in Exchange for Secret Payments
A racketeering lawsuit against Trump, his three oldest children (Eric, Ivanka, and Don, Jr.), and the Trump Organization alleges the Trumps promoted a get-rich-scheme that defrauded vulnerable investors, and that the Trumps would have known this to be the case. It also accuses the Trumps of receiving payments not disclosed to investors.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of four plaintiffs, and the lawyers managing the suit have petitioned to keep them pseudonymous because of “serious and legitimate security concerns given the heated political environment.”
The organizations fingered in the suit—but not named as defendants—include a telecom firm, a vitamin marketing outfit, and a training seminar company. The telecom firm paid Trump to endorse its products, while the vitamin and training companies were named for him.
One potential issue—or at least, a potential sideshow attraction—is that the lawsuit is underwritten by the Tesseract Research Center, which receives its funds from Morris Pearl, a donor to Democratic candidates. The nonprofit center’s stated mission is to help people who cannot use courts to obtain relief after losses because the party they would need to sue has “extreme wealth and power.”
The lawyers leading the suit said the timing, just before the midterms, had nothing to do with influencing election outcomes, but because the case “is ready now.”
What’s at stake: Monetary and other damages awarded against the president, his family, and his business. The discovery process could reveal private business details, including those related to income and taxes.
What would need to be true: The allegations of secret payments or knowledge by the Trumps and their business of the scheme’s flaws.
The president’s defense: The Trump Organization said the suit was meritless.
Where it stands now: The suit was just filed in court on Oct. 29.
Defamation Lawsuit Related to Sexual Assault Allegations by Summer Zervos
While Trump has faced numerous allegations of unwanted physical contact and sexual assault, only one lawsuit has been filed in recent years—and it was for defamation. Summer Zervos, who was a contestant in 2005 on Trump’s show, The Apprentice, claimed in 2016 that Trump had kissed her on the lips twice on one occasion and groped her breast on another. While the statute of limitations on any alleged assault or harassment has passed, Zervos sued Trump for defamation because he accused her of lying.
As with Jones v. Clinton, were this lawsuit to proceed to court, it is of less importance whether Zervos prevails than the discovery process that may require Trump to produce information and depositions. Zervos’ attorneys want documents related not just to her, but to any accusation of sexual misconduct or inappropriate touching by Trump.
What’s at stake: Zervos’ suit didn’t specify monetary damages, but an alleged pattern of inappropriate physical contact up through sexual assault could be presented in court.
What would need to be true: Zervos is a public figure, and to prevail she would have to prove Trump spoke not just a falsehood, but did so in knowing disregard of the truth. Since he would have been present at the alleged assault, the suit may hinge on the ability of Zervos to prove to a jury that the assault occurred.
The president’s defense: Trump’s spokesperson at the time, Hope Hicks, released a statement that read, “There is no truth to this absurd story.”
Where it stands now: Despite efforts from Trump’s lawyers to have the suit dismissed, the presiding judge has said it can proceed, and wants depositions completed by Jan. 31, 2019, including that of Trump.
CNN Constitutional Lawsuit over Suspending Jim Acosta’s Press Credentials (Settled)
On Nov. 7, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta had his press credentials suspended following a rancorous press conference held by Trump the day after the midterm elections. Acosta had asked the president a question and began to ask a follow-up when an intern tried to remove the mic Acosta was holding. Acosta held onto the mic, asked his question, then yielded it. Later that day, when he returned to the White House to film a live shot, Acosta had his “hard pass,” or long-term press credentials for expedited entry, confiscated by a Secret Service agent.
Acosta was denied a one-day press pass the following day. He was also barred from attending events the president appeared at in Europe to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I.
After attempts by CNN for a resolution, according to the network, it sued on Nov. 13, alleging violations of the First Amendment’s protections for the press to allow free reporting on the government, and the Fifth Amendment, from a lack of due process regarding the withdrawal of Acosta’s press access. The suit also states that there was no valid basis on law outside of constitutional issues on which to suspend Acosta’s White House access.
On Nov. 8, Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on the interns, despite the ready availability of video showing he had not. Sanders then posted a doctored video published by an Infowars contributor that selectively sped up portions of the Acosta/intern interaction, added color, and zoomed in. Sanders said that was the basis of the suspension. On Nov. 13, in response to the CNN lawsuit, Sanders dropped that claim.
While there’s no established constitutional right for reporters to be able to enter the White House grounds or press areas, the lawsuit and a rare previous case, decided on appeal in 1977, focus on discrimination. Acosta cannot be specifically excluded without an extraordinary reason if other reporters are allowed to be at a briefing or event. The 1977 appeals court decision over a denial in 1966 to a reporter for White House credentials found that the administration would need to provide notice to a reporter, a written statement of the reasoning, and an opportunity to rebut that statement. That outcome hasn’t been challenged or brought to the Supreme Court, as no similar situation has arisen in over 50 years.
The suit names Trump, Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine, the director of the U.S. Secret Service, and the agent (as “John Doe”) who confiscated Acosta’s press pass.
CNN dropped the lawsuit on Nov. 19 after the White House agreed to reinstate Acosta’s press pass.
What’s at stake: CNN’s lawsuit asks for an immediate injunction to restore Acosta’s press credentials. It asks either that his access is restored with no restrictions at all, or by following the 1977 appeals court guidelines on revocation. It also asks a judge to declare the administration’s actions unconstitutional under the First and Fifth Amendments, as well as under statutory law.
What would need to be true: A court (and potentially an appeals court and the Supreme Court) would need to agree that the press revocation violated Acosta’s rights in one or more of the fashions described. A judge found a likely violation of due process in his temporary restraining order.
The president’s defense: Sanders said in a statement that the administration would “vigorously defend” itself, and that Acosta had acted inappropriately and unprofessionally. Even after standing down, the White House maintained its position on Acosta’s actions.
Where it stands now: The White House reissued Acosta’s press pass and said it has new rules for press conduct at presidential press conferences. CNN withdrew its lawsuit.