Karem is the second journalist that officials in Trump’s administration have sought to ban and the second to sue over the twin decisions, which are unprecedented in modern White House history.
The White House suspended the credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta last fall after he engaged in a testy exchange with Trump at a news conference. A federal judge quickly sided with him and CNN after they sued, issuing a restraining order against the White House, which lifted its ban.
Karem’s suit makes much the same legal argument as Acosta’s — that his suspension violates his First Amendment right of free speech and Fifth Amendment right of due process, given that the White House has no rules or procedures in place to warrant such action. Karem is represented by Ted Boutrous, the lawyer who represented Acosta and CNN.
Grisham notified Karem this month that she was revoking his pass as a result of a July 11 incident in the Rose Garden.
Following Trump’s remarks at a “social media summit” with bloggers and online supporters last month, Karem engaged in a brief exchange of words with members of the audience; Karem later said his comments were meant to be lighthearted. He received an immediate reply from a guest at the event, former Trump White House aide and radio talk-show host Sebastian Gorka.
Karem responded to Gorka by inviting him to have “a long conversation” outside the grounds. Gorka appeared to take this as a challenge and walked over to confront Karem, calling him “a punk.” Karem said he later sought to settle the matter by shaking hands with Gorka, but was rebuffed.
Grisham issued a “preliminary” decision to suspend Karem’s access three weeks after the event, noting that Trump had concurred with the decision. She said in a letter to Karem that his “disruptive behavior” at the July 11 event “violated the basic standards governing such events,” although she acknowledged that there are no explicit rules describing these standards.
She wrote that Karem had “insulted an invited guest of the White House . . . threatened to escalate a verbal altercation into a physical one and . . . re-engaged with Mr. Gorka in what quickly became a confrontational manner while repeatedly disobeying a White House staffer’s instructions to leave.”
Grisham told Karem that the decision to suspend him was final last week.
In a statement, Grisham said, “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. 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.”
Boutrous, in a statement, said, “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.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association has weighed in on Karem’s behalf, saying in a statement last week that it is “deeply concerned” about the suspension. “Such a move could have a chilling effect on working journalists,” it said. “As we have said before, we believe everyone should conduct themselves professionally at the White House.”