On Iran, Pompeo said, “This is a regime that has been working to develop its nuclear program for years and years and years. And the nuclear deal guaranteed them a pathway to having a nuclear program.”
The most telling part of the interview, however, was nonverbal: “Immediately after the questions on Ukraine, the interview concluded. Pompeo stood, leaned in and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room," notes the NPR account of the interview.
The secretary of state, a man entrusted with spreading and maintaining the good will of the United States throughout the world, is now on record as menacing an NPR co-host of “All Things Considered.”
Then the proceedings moved to insults. An aide invited Kelly into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department. "Inside the room, Pompeo shouted his displeasure at being questioned about Ukraine. He used repeated expletives, according to Kelly, and asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He then said, ‘People will hear about this.’”
Kelly provided a more thorough account in a chat with colleague Ari Shapiro:
Moments later the same staffer who had stopped the interview reappeared, asked me to come with her, just me — no recorder, though she did not say we were off the record, nor would I have agreed. I was taken to the secretary’s private living room, where he was waiting and where he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the 'f' word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes. He called out for his aides to bring out a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine, he put the map away. He said, ‘People will hear about this.’
Bolding inserted to highlight a question for the State Department: Does Pompeo keep this no-markings map around just to play the old find-the-country game with journalists? We have placed that question before the State Department and will update if we receive a response.
The State Department released this statement from Pompeo:
NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation 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. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.
As for those two alleged lies: The first appears to relate to the ground rules for the interview. Kelly started out asking about Iran, then switched to Ukraine — specifically, whether Pompeo owed Yovanovitch an apology. Pompeo didn’t appreciate it. “You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do,” he said. Kelly responded that she’d confirmed with Pompeo’s staff that she’d be asking about Iran and Ukraine.
This is a stupid dustup. Reporters commonly tell PR types what they want to focus on — and Kelly insists that she signaled her intention to ask about Ukraine. Whatever the case, it’s well understood that reporters, once they’re face to face with their interviewee, will ask about whatever’s in the news. It’s then up to the interviewee to either answer the question or to deflect. Or to prove himself insecure, defensive and ill-informed, as Pompeo did in this particular setting. What sentient secretary of state would agree to an interview with NPR and balk at answering a question about the No. 1 issue now before the country?
The second alleged lie pertains to whether Kelly had somehow violated an off-the-record agreement. It’s apparent that the State Department aide believed she was communicating such a request by barring Kelly from using her recorder in the private-living-room geography session. Some reporters may indeed have interpreted the request that way. However, decades of precedent have established that when a PR person wants something off the record, there is a protocol: Issue the off-the-record request, and secure the journalist’s unequivocal agreement. Otherwise, the discussion is fair game.
By Kelly’s account, no such agreement occurred in this instance. An NPR spokesperson said Kelly is unavailable for interviews about the encounter.
Despite its brevity, the Kelly-Pompeo interview contains multitudes. The idea, for instance, that the secretary of state would be lecturing a reporter about American apathy about Ukraine is stunning. It is, after all, the job of the secretary of state to care about countries that aren’t on the radar of the average American. And what to make of this Bangladesh snark? If Pompeo is trying to say that Kelly mistook Bangladesh for Ukraine, why doesn’t he just come out and say it?
Because he’s too much of a coward. Moments after stumbling over fair questions about Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy in Ukraine, Pompeo attempts to intimidate a correspondent by looming over her. That’s not President Trump’s style — he prefers to bash the media in rallies and on Twitter. That’s not Kellyanne Conway’s style — she prefers to lace her interviews with petty condescension, the better to bait her interlocutors. That’s not Stephanie Grisham’s style — she prefers to linger in the background and get her message across over email.
But at least Pompeo was right about one thing. “People will hear about this," he said.