CNN anchor Jake Tapper abruptly ended an interview with a top Trump campaign aide who persistently refused to address the president’s failure to condemn a far-right group.
Ending the interview with Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, Tapper referenced the host of the previous night’s debate, saying: “I’m not Chris Wallace.”
The interview, on Wednesday afternoon, quickly became heated after Tapper asked: “Why is it so difficult for President Trump to say, ‘I condemn white supremacy’?”
Mr Murtaugh said the president already had, arguing: “Sooner or later, you guys have to take yes for an answer.” As the two went back and forth about the details, eventually Tapper said: “You know what, I’m not Chris Wallace,” and seemed to end the interview early.
Wallace had struggled to maintain order during the chaotic debate, in which the president repeatedly refused to allow his opponent, Joe Biden, to speak. On Wednesday the Fox News host acknowledged criticism of his performance and called the debate “a missed opportunity”.
Mr Trump drew intense criticism even among Republicans for not vigorously condemning white supremacist groups on Tuesday night, after Mr Biden asked him to denounce the Proud Boys, a right-wing militia, during a question from Wallace about disavowing right-wing extremists.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's gotta do something about antifa and the left,” Mr Trump said.
Pressed about the comments on Wednesday at the White House, in particular what “stand by” meant, Mr Trump said he’d “always denounced any form” of white supremacy, and that he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were, even though they are now a regular, headline-grabbing presence at American political demonstrations.
“I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work," Mr Trump said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress in mid-September that white supremacist groups rank among the top threats to US national security.
The controversy is a familiar one for Mr Trump, who has been accused in the past of going easy on violent white supremacists. In 2017, he seemed to praise contingents of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by a right-wing extremist, saying there were “very fine people on both sides." (He later said the comments were meant to apply to people seeking to keep a Confederate monument up, not to neo-Nazis present at the event.)
It’s also not the first time Tapper has cut off officials from the Trump administration who he believes aren’t responding to questions in good faith, including an axed conversation with trade adviser Peter Navarro earlier this month about whether the president misled Americans about the extent of the threat from coronavirus, and another exchange that went viral in 2017 with White House policy adviser Stephen Miller about author Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, which painted a highly critical picture of the president.