The White House has shared footage posted by an editor of a conspiracy theory website showing Jim Acosta making contact with a Trump aide, in a bid to justify its suspension of the CNN reporter’s press pass.
Mr Acosta “placed his hands on” a female aide trying to retrieve a microphone as the journalist repeatedly questioned the president, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed in a statement posted to Twitter.
The incident occurred during a fiery press conference in which reporters and Mr Trump clashed over his divisive rhetoric in the run-up to the midterms.
Footage showed Mr Acosta attempting to keep the microphone during his questioning of Mr Trump, while the female aide tries three times to grab the microphone from him.
On her final attempt, Mr Acosta’s free hand briefly blocks the aide’s arm, as Mr Trump refuses to answer the reporter’s questions.
Announcing Mr Acosta’s suspension, Ms Sanders said the White House would “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job”.
“As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice,” she wrote on Twitter.
Late on Wednesday, Ms Sanders posted partial video footage of the incident, alongside a statement which read: “We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behaviour clearly documented in this video.”
The video, which has no audio and is of notably low quality, shows the moment Mr Acosta’s hand blocks the aide’s attempts to grab the microphone. It repeats the moment six times, each time zooming further into the brief moment of contact.
Many social media users accused Ms Sanders of posting footage which sped up the contact to make Mr Acosta’s movement appear more aggressive.
But according to an analysis by The Independent, the video instead appears to have been doctored to freeze for three frames the moment before Mr Acosta’s hand pushes down on the aide’s arm.
Ms Sanders’ tweet came exactly two hours after the same video was shared by Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large of InfoWars, a far-right conspiracy theory website fronted by Trump-supporter Alex Jones.
Mr Trump has long feuded with CNN and accused it of peddling “fake news” – the channel is one of his favoured punching bags. During the ill-tempered press conference on Wednesday he singled out Mr Acosta as “rude”.
He has also threatened to revoke the broadcast licences of outlets whose content he dislikes, and stoked anger against journalists by denouncing them as the “enemy of the people”.
Speaking on CNN to colleague Anderson Cooper, Mr Acosta said: “I was just trying to ask a question of the president. It was obviously a question they didn’t like.
“I do think this is a test for all of us. I do think they’re trying to shut us down.”
In a statement, CNN said the revocation of Mr Acosta’s credentials “was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today’s press conference”.
The company said Ms Huckabee Sanders had “provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened”. It added: “This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support.”
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