Washington (AFP) – Shouts, glares and unprintable words: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lost his temper at a journalist after she questioned him on the administration’s stance on Ukraine, the country at the heart of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
It began when Pompeo gave an early morning interview to NPR radio.
Much of the discussion dealt with Iran, but journalist Mary Louise Kelly closed by asking Pompeo about Ukraine.
Trump is on trial in the US Senate after being impeached by the Democratic-controlled House for abuse of office. He is accused of pressuring Kiev to investigate his potential election challenger Joe Biden, and of blocking congressional efforts to probe that abuse.
Pompeo, a close associate of Trump, has himself been criticized for failing to defend Marie Yovanovitch, Washington’s former ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly called home last spring after being subjected to what she said was a “smear campaign” led by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
“Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?” Kelly asked Pompeo.
A tense exchange followed, wherein Pompeo said he had “defended every State Department official,” while Kelly asked, in vain, when he had publicly defended Yovanovitch.
“I’ve said all I’m going to say today. Thank you,” Pompeo said finally, ending the interview.
But the story didn’t end there, and Kelly related the rest in an NPR broadcast on Friday evening, an account which Pompeo on Saturday disputed.
She said she thanked the secretary, who did not reply but leaned in and glared at her before leaving the room.
A staffer then invited Kelly to Pompeo’s private living room, without her recorder.
There, Pompeo “was waiting and… he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself lasted,” Kelly said.
“He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine,” Kelly said, adding that the secretary asked her, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” in an exchange peppered with profane words.
– A map without names –
Pompeo then asked his advisors to bring out a map of the world without the countries labeled, to see whether Kelly knew where Ukraine was located. “I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away,” said Kelly, who holds a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University.
“People will hear about this,” said Pompeo, who has publicly attacked journalists in the past.
In a written statement on Saturday, he accused Kelly of lying to him, twice. The first time, which he did not elaborate upon, was “in setting up our interview.”
He also alleged that the post-interview “conversation” was supposed to be off the record.
“It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency. This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration,” Pompeo said.
He then implied that Kelly did not, in fact, identify Ukraine on the map. “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine,” the top US diplomat said in his statement.
Kelly said she was not told the conversation would be off the record, nor would she have agreed to those terms if she were asked.
She also said Pompeo’s staff were aware she’d ask about both Iran and Ukraine.
In an interview with NPR on Saturday, the broadcaster’s president and CEO John Lansing said he supported Kelly and called Pompeo’s statement “blatantly false.”
“We will not be intimidated. Mary Louise Kelly won’t be intimidated, and NPR won’t be intimidated,” Lansing said.
The secretary of state came under scrutiny last year when it emerged that he had been one of the senior administration officials listening in on a phone call, a center of the impeachment case, between Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.