The complaint alleges that the White House, in suspending Karem’s hard pass to enter the White House complex, has violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights — because the White House allegedly acted “in the absence of pre-existing, published, explicit, and meaningful standards” — as well as his First Amendment rights as a member of the press.
Assailing the White House’s decision, Boutrous relies on the same arguments that he advanced last fall in a similar case: CNN v. Trump, in which the cable-news outlet successfully petitioned the court on behalf of White House correspondent Jim Acosta. The Trump White House had yanked Acosta’s credentials after a contentious post-midterm-elections news conference, though Boutrous and his team argued that the action was based on whims and no established norms or standards.
Judge Timothy J. Kelly ruled that CNN was likely to prevail with its due process arguments and ordered the restoration of Acosta’s hard pass.
The circumstances in the Karem case are a touch more baroque. On July 11, Karem was present as the president spoke about a controversial census matter in the Rose Garden, with a volatile assemblage of contingents before him. Also present were a group of staunch Trump supporters who’d attended a Social Media Summit, plus the White House media. As Trump wrapped up his comments, Karem asked if he’d answer some questions.
Trump didn’t — and that’s when some trash talk bubbled up. “He talked to us, the real news,” said one attendee. Another instructed Karem not to be “sad.” In what he later termed an effort at Rodney Dangerfield-style humor, Karem quipped, “This is a group of people that are eager for demonic possession.” Something about the goings-on enticed Sebastian Gorka, a former White House official and Salem Radio host known for bluster. He challenged Karem on whether he was a “journalist.” Karem replied, “Come on over here and talk to me, brother, or we can go outside and have a long conversation.”
With that, Gorka dashed over to Karem and proceeded to rant at close range: “You are a punk! You’re not a journalist! You’re a punk!”
As with any clash between the media and Trump world that’s caught on video, this one secured ample discussion on Twitter. The Erik Wemple Blog even bit, with a post calling the episode a “battle of loudmouths.” And like every last brushfire in the Trump era, it died out, overtaken by a string of other ridiculous situations, statements and contradictions.
Then Grisham revived it. On Aug. 2, she informed Karem in a letter that she’d reached a “preliminary decision” to suspend his credentials over the July 11 unpleasantness. One business day was allowed for a response. Karem & Co. responded with a memo citing the due process, viewpoint discrimination and other alleged infirmities in the Grisham letter. Lawyers for Karem also met with Grisham.
To no avail: On Aug. 16, Grisham informed Karem in a letter of his suspension through Sept. 14. Historians will feast on the letter’s 13 pages of biometric analysis and detailed breakdown of comedic timing surrounding the events of July 11. Many of the passages, in fact, read as if they were ripped off from the hard drive of “Saturday Night Live.” For example:
There are two levels of scandal attending to that paragraph. One is that a great deal of cogitation went into its formulation. Another is that no one in the approval hierarchy managed to stop said cogitation from exiting the building.
Anyhow, Grisham concluded that Karem had insulted White House guests; “threatened to escalate a verbal altercation into a physical one”; and “re-engaged” with Gorka. The conduct exhibited by Karem, she wrote, was “unacceptable and disruptive” and triggered a White House response to prevent a recurrence.
The Karem court filings make much of the lag between the July 11 event and Grisham’s Aug. 2 “preliminary decision.” Why wait 22 days before taking action? The brief provides a possible explanation: “Ms. Grisham had made the decision 22 days after the July 11 incident — but just hours after Mr. Karem had asked the President to comment on Bernie Sanders’s assertion that the President was a ‘pathological liar,’ … and just 9 days after the President had shouted at Mr. Karem during a press conference, pointing at him and calling him ‘Fake News,’” states the brief.
In other words, Karem’s attorneys are alleging viewpoint discrimination, something that Grisham had disavowed in her Aug. 16 letter. “The content and viewpoint of Mr. Karem’s journalism have nothing to do with this decision,” she wrote.
To slice through the back-and-forth, Karem’s behavior on that July afternoon was far from exemplary. A better approach would have been to shut up, though that’s not really his thing. He rose in stature during the Trump administration by confronting former press secretary Sarah Sanders over a couple very questionable statements in the briefing room, back when it was used for briefings.
That said, the White House response swamps Karem’s stray words in terms of unprofessionalism and unacceptability. Here’s hoping the courts agree.