Then, in an exchange that has been hailed as “gutsy,” “relentless” and “a master class in journalism,” Amons pressed Pompeo on the latest news in the controversy involving President Trump and Ukraine. She questioned him about the resignation of one of his senior advisers and the ouster of a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She asked three times whether he met with Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani while in Warsaw, and he refused to say.
Undeterred, Amons inquired about text messages showing that U.S. diplomats thought a relationship between Trump and Ukraine’s president was contingent upon Ukraine investigating Trump’s political rivals. That’s when Pompeo lost his cool.
“You’ve got your facts wrong,” he told Amons, shaking his head. “It sounds like you’re working, at least in part, for the Democratic National Committee.”
Pompeo was in Nashville to speak at a conference held by the American Association of Christian Counselors. As Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified before Congress that she was ousted because of pressure from Trump, the secretary of state joked to the group that it was “a heck of a day not to be in Washington.”
While in Tennessee, Pompeo sat for interviews with local reporters. Among them was Amons. A 30-year veteran of WSMV, she has produced investigations that led to federal indictments and state inquiries, and told The Washington Post that she “can’t think of anything else I would want to do, unless it was being a private investigator.”
Some speculated that Pompeo was expecting easy questions when he sat down with her. Amons thinks that’s likely.
“People do underestimate me a lot because I’m five feet tall and I walk in and I’m this little short blonde,” she said. “I hope to be friendly and polite, and then they don’t see the questions coming, I guess.”
The conversation between Amons and Pompeo began amicably, as she joked that he had probably done a few thousand interviews and could clip on his own microphone. She opened the interview by welcoming him to Nashville; he smiled while telling her it was good to be there.
Then Amons was ready to move on from the pleasantries. Holding a stack of notes, she launched into a line of questioning about the resignation of senior Pompeo adviser Michael McKinley.
“He’s adding his voice to a number of career diplomats who’ve expressed frustration over what they see as your failure to stand up for government servants — for servants like Ambassador Yovanovitch who have been caught up in the Ukraine controversy,” Amons said. “Did you do enough to defend the ambassador, privately and publicly, against the smear campaign that was being waged against her, and will you speak to that now?"
“Well, ma’am, you have some of your facts wrong, so you should be careful about things you assert as facts before you state them,” Pompeo responded. “But more importantly, I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done along with my team, other senior leaders at the State Department, to make sure that this institution was functional, preserved and delivering on behalf of America.”
Moments later, when Amons pointed out that he and Giuliani were in Warsaw at the same time, and asked whether they met, Pompeo said, “I don’t talk about who I meet with.”
“I went to Warsaw for a particular purpose,” he continued. “It was an important mission. We brought together people all across the world to take down the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on on that mission.”
“So you’re not going to say whether you met with him?” Amons asked, still determined to get an answer.
“When I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus,” Pompeo said. “My focus was singularly on the work that we have done, effective work, to recover from what the Obama administration has done, which is to underwrite the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We’ve stopped that, and we’re making real progress.”
“It sounds like you’re not going to say,” Amons said.
Pompeo repeated the same line: “When I was in Warsaw, we were working diligently to accomplish the mission to take down the terror regime that’s inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on. It was the only thing that I engaged in while I was there.”
At that point, Amons asked about the text messages of the U.S. diplomats, and Pompeo made the jab that she worked for the DNC. He told her that her phrasing “does a real disservice to the employees and the team at the United States Department of State.” Then he said that the United States has important foreign policy interests in Ukraine, adding that the “threat from Russia is real and this administration, unlike the previous one, is taking those responsibilities very seriously.”
Amons wrapped up the interview by giving Pompeo a chance to talk about the reason he came to Nashville. Then she told him that she was out of time. He thanked her and quickly left — this time without the banter that had started the meeting. “I think he liked me less at the end,” Amons wrote on Twitter.
As she walked out of the interview, she said she felt as though she had gotten “a whole lot of nothing” and wondered what she would even report from it. Then she decided that Pompeo’s refusal to answer questions was the story. She was surprised by his reaction to her questions, describing it as “condescending.” Still, she didn’t think his DNC comments merited a response.
“I wasn’t going to defend a personal attack,” Amons said. “It just wasn’t worth the time. I had seven minutes. I had other questions I wanted to ask."