Chris Wallace Once Dinged Jake Tapper's Question to Steven Mnuchin as "Fake News," Email Reveals

Chris Wallace and Jake Tapper -Split-Getty-H 2019
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

"As much as I hate the expression 'fake news' — this is a perfect example of it," Wallace said of Tapper in a late 2017 email obtained through a FOIA request.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace wasn't impressed with Jake Tapper's handling of a Dec. 17, 2017 interview with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the CNN Sunday morning show State of the Union.

Tapper, after telling Mnuchin that he would "get to taxes in one second," asked the cabinet secretary if he would be "alarmed" by President Trump firing then-special counsel Robert Mueller, as was considered a possibility at the time.

After receiving a transcript of the exchange, Wallace fired off an email to then-Treasury spokesperson Tony Sayegh. "Is this right?" he asked. "Was the first question Tapper asked the secretary about the special counsel?" ("That is correct," Sayegh responded.)

Then, according to an email exchange obtained by the advocacy group Democracy Forward through a Freedom of Information Act request, Wallace took aim at Tapper. "As much as I hate the expression 'fake news' — this is a perfect example of it — especially on the week the country gets a massive overhaul of the tax code," he wrote back to Sayegh. (He CC'd Hope Hicks and another White House aide on the email.)

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a CNN spokesperson said: "Turns out Chris Wallace is no different than many of his peers at Fox News. It’s disappointing that he’d need to take cheap shots at another journalist to curry favor with this administration."

On the same morning in 2017, Wallace interviewed Mnuchin about tax reform. "He really enjoyed the interview w you Chris," Mnuchin's spokesperson told Wallace. "It was an outstanding discussion on tax. Glad you two got to meet in person." 

Through a Fox News spokesperson, Wallace said he is “proud of the tough and probing interview he did with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in which he asked at least 10 questions about the tax bill that had just been passed, including whether wealthy Americans need all of those tax breaks and if the GOP tax plan will create a more complicated tax system.”

Previously, email correspondence between Sayegh and employees of Fox News and Fox Business in 2017 and 2018 painted a picture of a close bond between the agency and the networks. "You're the man," Sayegh told Fox Business host David Asman in an email at the time.

In the CNN interview, Mnuchin threw water on the possibility of Trump firing Mueller. "I haven't heard anything about this, any firing, but we have got to get past this investigation," he said. "I don't have any reason to think that the president is going to do that, but that's obviously up to him." (Trump, of course, did not end up firing Mueller, though the special counsel's report made clear that the president took steps to curtail the investigation.)

Tapper, in the lead-up to his interview with Mnuchin, connected a development in the special counsel investigation to congressional tax policy, the issue Mnuchin was best positioned to discuss. "The new developments have the potential to distract from the Republican focus this week, passing their $1.5 trillion tax cut and delivering President Trump his first major legislative victory of the year," Tapper told viewers. After quizzing Mnuchin on Mueller, he said, "Let's turn to taxes."

In another email exchange provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Wallace pressed a White House aide in July 2018 to deliver a surrogate for his upcoming show. "We are counting on an economic guest," Wallace wrote to Alexa Henning, who served as deputy director of booking operations, two days before his weekly show. "Now with GDP numbers — either Mnuchin or Kudlow. Where are we? Really need to promote." (Mnuchin ended up appearing on the episode.)

"Given the revolving door between Fox News and the Trump administration, it's no surprise that all sides of the network have now adopted President Trump's rhetoric and are intent on pushing his administration's agenda," Democracy Forward press secretary Charisma Troiano said in a statement.