White House bans CNN reporter from Rose Garden event after she peppers Trump with tough questions on Russia, Cohen

"This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press," CNN said in a statement. "We demand better."
by Phil McCausland /  / Updated 
White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins
White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins asks a question during a press conference by U.S. President Donald Trump and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the East Room of the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

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The White House banned a CNN reporter from attending a press event with President Donald Trump on Wednesday after she asked him questions about his former lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The cable networks's White House reporter Kaitlan Collins had served as the "pool reporter" during an Oval Office photo op with President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, meaning she was asking questions on behalf of several news organizations. As the president sat for pictures, Collins tossed out a few questions in hopes that Trump might answer.

Major networks trade the duty of serving as the television "pool reporter," and it is typical that this person attempt to ask the president questions. Trump is known to sometimes answer, and it is oftentimes reporters' only opportunity to ask him questions.

The White House apparently did not like her line of questioning.

"After posing questions to President Trump earlier in the day as the network pool reporter, Collins was told by White House deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah Sanders that her questions were 'inappropriate,'" CNN said in a statement.

Collins' four questions centered on Trump's relationship with his former longtime lawyer Cohen and an invitation he extended to President Putin.

"Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?" she asked twice, between the whir and clicks of cameras taking photos. "Mr. President are you worried about what Michael Cohen is about to say to the prosecutors? Are you worried about what is on the other tapes, Mr. President? Why is Vladimir Putin not accepting your invitation, Mr. President?"

All four questions related to news of the day. Cohen's lawyer released the audio of a recording between Cohen and the president late on Tuesday in which Trump mentions "cash" in relation to paying off a former Playboy model who claims she had a year-long affair with him.

The final question refers to an invitation that Trump extended to Russian President Putin to come to the White House. The White House announced Wednesday that it would delay the meeting until special counsel Robert Mueller completed his investigation of Russian election interference, which also looks into whether the Trump campaign attempted to collude with the Russian government.

After Collins asked the questions, however, she was told by Shine and Sanders that she would not be allowed to attend an open press event in the White House Rose Garden.

"I told them that is often our only chance to ask the president questions. Those questions were questions any reporter would have asked, and I was there to represent all of the networks and therefore ask about the questions of the day," she said on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

Trump and Juncker gave brief statements at the Rose Garden event about their meeting on Wednesday.

"Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of day doesn't mean the question isn't relevant and shouldn't be asked," CNN said in its statement. "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better."

The White House Correspondents' Association also condemned the Trump administration's "misguided and inappropriate decision."

"This type of retaliation is wholly inappropriate, wrong-headed, and weak," WHCA President Olivier Knox said. "It cannot stand. Reporters asking questions of powerful government officials, up to and including the President, helps hold those people accountable."

FOX News, the president's preferred news network, also extended their support to CNN and Collins' right to be at the press event.

“We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press,” wrote Jay Wallace, the president of FOX News, in a statement.

Sanders said in a statement from the White House that Collins had "shouted questions and refused to leave despite repeatedly being asked to do so."

"Subsequently, our staff informed her she was not welcome to participate in the next event, but made clear that any other journalist from her network could attend," Sanders said. "She said it didn’t matter to her because she hadn’t planned to be there anyway. To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House."

Other White House reporters — some who were in the room when Collins asked the questions — and colleagues extended their support to the CNN reporter.

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