Pompeo says denying credentials to NPR sends “perfect message about press freedoms”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the State Department’s decision to deny NPR press credentials for his trip to Europe following his confrontation with reporter Mary Louise Kelly, stating in an interview in Kazakhstan Sunday that it sends “a perfect message about press freedoms” to the world.

The backdrop: In an NPR interview in January, Kelly pressed Pompeo about his reluctance to defend former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch after she was the victim of a smear campaign. After the interview ended, Kelly says Pompeo took her into his private living room and berated her, asking if she could even find Ukraine on a map.

  • After Kelly went public about the episode, Pompeo released a statement accusing her of lying to him, claiming the interview was “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration.”
  • The State Department later denied an NPR reporter press credentials to cover his trip to Europe.


What he’s saying: During an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Pompeo denied that he had a confrontational interview with Kelly and said the State Department only grants press credentials when it believes reporters are “telling the truth and being honest,” according to a transcript.

  • “I always bring a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they’ll do that, they get to participate, and if they don’t, it’s just not appropriate — frankly, it’s not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside them,” Pompeo said.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Trump praises Pompeo for confrontation with NPR reporter: ‘You did a good job on her’

President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his testy confrontation with an NPR journalist last week, saying Pompeo “did a good job on her.”

The remark — which drew raucous laughter in the East Room — came after Trump offered appreciation for Pompeo at the rollout of the White House’s Middle East peace plan.

Pompeo received a standing ovation at the event, leading the president to say, “Whoa,” as Pompeo waved to the room. “That was very impressive, Mike.”

“That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday,” Trump said. “I think you did a good job on her, actually.”

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly has alleged Pompeo exploded at her after an interview on Friday, shouting and swearing in his private living room at the State Department after she asked a series of probing questions about Ukraine.

Pompeo then reportedly asked aides to provide a blank map and made the host of “All Things Considered” point out the Ukraine, the country at the center of the Trump impeachment drama.

“Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” Pompeo allegedly asked.

Kelly said he used the F-word in that moment and at other points in their conversation. The journalist, who has a master’s degree in European Studies from Cambridge University, said she correctly identified Ukraine.

Pompeo issued his own statement on Saturday accusing Kelly of lying and suggesting the reporter said the post-interview conversation would be off the record. Pompeo also said Kelly pointed to Bangladesh instead of Ukraine.

In an op-ed published Tuesday night in The New York Times, Kelly reflected on the now-infamous interview, hoping to draw focus back to the contents of the exchange. Before asking about Ukraine, Kelly asked Pompeo a number of questions on U.S. foreign policy in Iran. In her op-ed, Kelly wanted to emphasize the risky escalations between the two countries that have manifested in strikes on military targets and heated threats.

“The point is that recently the risk of miscalculation — of two old adversaries misreading each other and accidentally escalating into armed confrontation — has felt very real,” she wrote. “It occurs to me that swapping insults through interviews with journalists such as me might, terrifyingly, be as close as the top diplomats of the United States and Iran came to communicating this month.”

Tensions escalated Monday when veteran NPR reporter Michele Kelemen was removed from the list of reporters authorized to fly with Pompeo on his trip to Eastern Europe.

The State Department Correspondents’ Association condemned Kelemen’s removal in a statement on Monday, saying her exclusion was in retaliation for Pompeo’s exchange with Kelly. The White House Correspondents’ Association also responded Tuesday, calling the “punitive” action taken against NPR “outrageous and contrary to American values.”

“The WCHA calls on the State Department to reverse this ill-conceived decision,” the statement said. “We stand with our colleagues at NPR and the State Department Correspondents’ Association.”


Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map (She did)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly lashed out at a reporter for NPR after an interview in which he was questioned about Ukraine and issues that are at the center of the impeachment trial against President Trump.

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly said during a segment on “All Things Considered” on Friday that Pompeo forcefully questioned whether Americans care about Ukraine and if the veteran journalist — who had recently returned from reporting in Iran — could find the former soviet country on a map.

“He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the F-word in that sentence and many others,” Kelly told her co-host Ari Shapiro, according to a transcript of the program.

“He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away.”

“He said, ‘People will hear about this,’” Kelly recounted.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The secretary is expected to travel to Ukraine on Thursday, committing to a trip that was postponed in December over increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Pompeo is a key figure in the impeachment trial against Trump following testimony from multiple officials about an effort by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to push for the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in order to clear the way to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations that would politically benefit Trump.

The secretary has been accused of failing to protect Yovanovitch from a smear campaign spearheaded by Giuliani. He has also been implicated in green-lighting Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, with U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified that “everyone was in the loop.”

Kelly asked Pompeo if he tried to block Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

“The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here,” Pompeo responded. “I’ve been clear about that, I know exactly what we were doing, I know precisely what the direction our State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy.”

Pompeo has rarely given media interviews to mainstream outlets, typically speaking with conservative news or local outlets when traveling outside of Washington. The secretary said he agreed to sit down with NPR’s Kelly to discuss the administration’s strategy on Iran.

Kelly was recently in Tehran and reported on the fallout surrounding the U.S. targeted killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

“You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran,” Pompeo said when asked if he owed Yovanovitch an apology. “That’s what I intend to do.”

“I have defended every State Department official. We’ve built a great team,” he added.

Pompeo has said in previous media interviews that the State Department is obligated to launch an investigation surrounding the allegations that Yovanovitch was surveilled but has provided no details of any inquiries.

Pompeo grew increasingly irate when Kelly pressed him on his failure to speak out in defense of Yovanovitch after relentless public attacks on her professionalism and character led to her removal.

“Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?” Kelly asked.

“I’ve said all I’m going to say today,” Pompeo answered. “Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.”

[The Hill]