CNN contributor and Playboy White House correspondent Brian Karem announced Friday his intention to sue the Trump administration over the thirty-day suspension of his hard pass used for entry to the White House. Karem claimed he was being suspended for a bad Rodney Dangerfield impersonation when he insulted guests of President Trump at a Rose Garden event on July 11.
“Just received word from the WH – finalized my hard pass suspension for 30 days – according to their letter – part of it because they think I do a bad Rodney Dangerfield impersonation. We will now go to court and sue.”
Just received word from the WH – finalized my hard pass suspension for 30 days – according to their letter – part of it because they think I do a bad Rodney Dangerfield impersonation. We will now go to court and sue. @BoutrousTed @realDonaldTrump
— Brian J. Karem (@BrianKarem) August 16, 2019
Trump spoke in the Rose Garden to announce a new tactic to gather citizenship information after the courts blocked his administration’s efforts to have a citizenship question added to the 2020 census. Trump was joine dby Attorney general William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
According to witnesses, Karem cursed President Trump in a low voice, allegedly calling him “that f***ing moron”, when Trump would not answer his questions following the announcement that was made before guests invited for a Social Media Summit held earlier that afternoon. Karem was then seen on video taunting Trump’s guests, saying, “This is a group that are eager for demonic possession.”
Former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka, in attendance for the Social Media Summit, called out Gorka for his insulting comments. Karem invited Gorka to go outside to talk, which Gorka took as an invitation to fight. Karem replied, “I’m right here”, while his posture, gestures and facial expressions appeared to be those of one spoiling for a fight. Gorka walked up to Karem, called him a punk and then walked away. Karem yelled at Gorka, “Go home!” two times and then yelled, “Hey Gorka! Get a job!”
My $$$ was on Seb as I note pic.twitter.com/yXfJfOKaZT
— Jim Hanson (@JimHansonDC) July 11, 2019
CLIP: After official White House event on American census, members of the invited crowd exchange words with the media…. pic.twitter.com/re8Cb6H0XM
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) July 11, 2019
According to Gorka and another witness, Karem had sworn at President Trump in the Rose Garden.
Social media summit guest Ryan Fournier reported that Karem swearing at Trump provoked the confrontation, “When President Trump didn’t respond to Brian Karem yelling questions at him, he said profanities under his breath towards POTUS. He was called out and then said we were all “eager for demonic possession” – total nut job!”
When President Trump didn’t respond to Brian Karem yelling questions at him, he said profanities under his breath towards POTUS.
He was called out and then said we were all “eager for demonic possession” – total nut job!
— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) July 12, 2019
Gorka talked with Newsmax’s John Cardillo about the confrontation, saying Karem called Trump “that f*cking moron” and insulted Trump’s guests as demonically possessed.
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) July 12, 2019
On Tuesday, Karem’s attorney Ted Boutrous posted a lengthy statement from Karem appealing the decision by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham to suspend his hard pass for thirty days. Karem claimed he was just kidding around and never threatened anyone. His account has omissions and misquotes of his statements in the incident.
.@Playboy correspondent @BrianKarem has submitted this statement responding to the White House’s “preliminary decision” to suspend his hard pass White House press credentials. https://t.co/cWbjK5cPeg. 1/2
— Ted Boutrous (@BoutrousTed) August 13, 2019
And, as it turns out, the President did not have a press conference. He was fashionably
late. It was hot. We waited. He came out. He made a statement—that could’ve been made in the
3:45 p.m. event. Then he turned and left. As the President did so, I said words to the effect of
“Mr. President, do you mind sticking around to answer a few questions?” I think one or two
others may have tried to ask a question. My voice is loud. I was heard. The President left and did
not respond, but some of the bloggers apparently thought the President’s departure was an
opportunity to try to humiliate the working press. Some of the guests had already been heckling
the press corps. The heckling began anew. And I heard someone from the crowd say, “He talked
to us, the real news.” Someone else taunted me, “don’t cry, don’t be sad” that the President
hadn’t taken my questions, or something equally demeaning.
I’m telling you. Tough Room. I get no respect… So, in an attempt to defuse the situation,
I did my Rodney Dangerfield: “Hey, looks like a group eager to be demonically possessed.” I
smiled. They smiled. We laughed. I thought that was that. Hey, at least I got a laugh.
Then I heard Sebastian Gorka taunt me from across the lawn about being a journalist. I
don’t know Gorka. I have only seen him twice in my life. I’ve never read anything that he’s
written or listened to his podcasts. I only know about him from others, figured he was a
character, and relished the idea of getting to know him—not fight him. So I said “Hey, we can talk here brother, or we can go outside and have a long conversation.” I actually had a thought I could get him on my podcast and that might be fun. He said I wanted to fight and began calling me a punk and threatening me as he made a beeline toward me from across the lawn—getting in my face as I stood behind the rope-line. As he continued to yell at me, the crowd began to join in, jeering and yelling, “Gorka! Gorka!”
I was a little discombobulated by his aggression, which I did not understand and did not
feel I had provoked. I told him, “I’d be happy to talk to you,” assuring him I did not want to
I mostly remained motionless. I’ve invited dozens of people outside the White House
during the last 35 years to talk. The optimal word of course is “talk”—not fight. Who would
invite someone to a WWF smackdown in the White House Rose Garden in front of 200 people,
dozens of television cameras? Certainly not me. I’m about to be a grandfather for the first time.
The only thing I’m fighting is arthritis and a bad meniscus.
A few days after I ran into Gorka I invited someone else I saw at the White House to go
off campus and have a talk. It’s always better to talk where there are fewer reporters and
listening devices. Privacy is hard to come by.
I saw John McCain at the White House once and asked him that very same thing. “Can
we go outside and have a conversation?” I asked. I remember him saying, “Where to?” I
suggested “Off the Record Lounge.” He smiled. “Too many people know me there.” I settled for
a short stroll in Lafayette Park.
No one I’ve ever said this to has ever taken this to mean I wanted to fight them.
At the White House, I come in with a smile. I sing. I dance. I entertain lower press. I’ve
done that off and on over the years when I come to the White House. You might as well enjoy a
laugh because life is too short.
Most everyone who knows me knows that’s me. I’ve done my Rodney impression and a
few other impressions (some like the Sean Connery and others like show tunes). I take my job
seriously, but I do not take myself too seriously.
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Gorka escalated events. He wanted the fight. I just wanted to talk. I thought he’d be a
fascinating guy to talk to for my podcast and still do…
…I understand that Ms. Grisham says she has taken this action against my hard pass
because I insulted White House guests and escalated the situation. The escalation ran the other
direction, as did the insults. The crowd was heckling the journalists, and singled me out because
of my parting question to President Trump. Then Gorka singled me out, and interpreted my
friendly attempt to defuse the situation as a threat. At no point in time was I ever of the mindset I
was going to fight anyone. As I said, I’m 58 years old, about to be a grandfather for the first time
and I’ve got bad knees. I ain’t fighting anybody. Seriously. There would have been NO
confrontation if Gorka hadn’t come after me. I wasn’t looking for him. I don’t cover Gorka. I
cover the president.
Also in his statement, Karem complains about being heckled by the guests at the White House and that Gorka and other Social Media Summit attendees have not been punished.
…I had been trying to schedule an interview with the new press secretary Stephanie
Grisham for some time. I had scheduled an interview prior to the Social Media Summit and she
canceled it. After the event I tried to reschedule my meeting, hoping to discuss this issue with
her—specifically I wanted to ask her if she could make sure White House guests could refrain
from heckling and insulting working members of the press.
…Of course, I ask questions and write things that the White House may not like. But
reporters aren’t scribes and contention is normal. What is not normal is retaliation. Since the
Social Media Summit, I’ve received a great deal of hate mail, a few death threats, threats against
my children, and one anonymous caller who said, “I will stake you to a tree and make you watch
while I rape your wife.” And now, of course, I face the prospect of having my hard pass
suspended. At the same time, apparently no action has been taken against Mr. Gorka or other
attendees of the Summit who escalated the situation.
UPDATE: Karem and Boutrous posted additional statements.
“From day one this administration has battled to demonize anyone who questions POTUS. DO not believe your eyes but believe him. @realDonaldTrump That is tyranny.”
From day one this administration has battled to demonize anyone who questions POTUS. DO not believe your eyes but believe him. @realDonaldTrump That is tyranny.
— Brian J. Karem (@BrianKarem) August 16, 2019
“This suspension of @Playboy White House correspondent @BrianKarem’s hard pass violates both the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
— Ted Boutrous (@BoutrousTed) August 16, 2019