This business of silencing journalists, it turns out, requires some organizational skills.

When the White House last November went off half-cocked and pulled the press pass of CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, a federal judge ruled against the move. Yanking press credentials does “irreparable harm” to a reporter’s First Amendment rights, Judge Timothy Kelly said, meaning that the White House needed to provide due process before banishing a journalist. It hadn’t.

So the White House was a touch more careful before it imposed a 30-day press-pass suspension on Playboy White House correspondent Brian Karem on Aug. 16 over his conduct after a July 11 event in the Rose Garden. Before that move, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham advised Karem on Aug. 2 of a “preliminary decision” that had been approved by President Trump himself; she provided Karem one business day to respond; and she met with his lawyers and allowed him to provide a statement outlining his side of the story.

Even so, Ted Boutrous, Karem’s lawyer, argued in a Tuesday hearing before federal Judge Rudolph Contreras that such steps camouflaged a kangaroo trial. Citing the “preliminary decision” that carried Trump’s blessing, Boutrous said, “The odds that she was going to depart from that were a million to one, if that. The decision had been made, and the rest was, quite frankly your honor, a farce.”

Then came Thursday, when the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Maxwell Tani reported on Grisham’s maneuvers. Aware that the White House had encountered problems in the Acosta litigation, Grisham told the Daily Beast that she’d discussed the matter with the president. “Before doing something that could potentially get significant media attention, I wanted to make sure the president was aware,” Grisham added. “I went to him with my recommendation and he asked if I was sure, and I said, yes, I was sure. And he said ‘I support you,’ and that was that.”

That quote found its way into a Thursday filing by Boutrous: “In her interview with the Daily Beast, Ms. Grisham admits that she told the President she was ‘sure’ about her decision to suspend Mr. Karem’s hard pass before she announced her preliminary decision.”

Not so, says a brief from the Justice Department. “The most natural reading of this quotation is simply that the Press Secretary was sure about her preliminary decision (the decision to which Ms. Grisham was apparently referring in [Daily Beast] quotation…) before issuing it, not that she had made up her mind about the final decision when issuing the preliminary decision,” notes the government reply.

All press secretaries, of course, compartmentalize their judgments into preliminary and final baskets.

At the end of this week’s hearing, Contreras indicated that he’d rule by Friday or Tuesday on Karem’s motion for restoration of his hard pass. He heard testimony not only on the White House’s procedures but also on the details of the July 11 Rose Garden clash. Karem’s suspension extends through Sept. 14.

The workload bearing on Contreras is a bit more perplexing than what Kelly faced last November in the Acosta case, in which typical Trump White House incompetence pointed in only one direction:

In this week’s hearing, Contreras quipped that it’s “clear that the White House got better lawyers between the Acosta [case] and this one.”

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