Pompeo steps up attacks on NPR reporter, but doesn't deny her account

The secretary of state on Saturday attacked the correspondent who reported that he had cursed and berated her over questioning about Ukraine, but did not directly challenge those claims.

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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday attacked an NPR correspondent who reported that he berated and cursed at her following questioning over Ukraine, claiming “she lied to me” and describing her actions as “shameful.”

“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,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency.”

Pompeo did not challenge the details of Kelly's claims about his statements or demeanor during their conversation.

NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said Pompeo cut off their interview when she pressed him on why he has not defended former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who is at the center of President Donald Trump’s impeachment. During her testimony before House impeachment investigators in November, Yovanovitch said she had felt threatened by Trump and his allies. Trump removed Yovanovitch as ambassador last year.

Kelly said she did not agree to be off the record at any point, and had communicated in advance to Pompeo’s office that she intended to ask him about Iran and Ukraine.

NPR released the full, unedited interview with Pompeo on Friday.

“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,” Pompeo said Saturday.

“Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report," NPR's Senior Vice President for News Nancy Barnes said Saturday, following Pompeo's statement.

After Pompeo abruptly ended the interview, an aide called Kelly back to Pompeo’s private living room where the correspondent said he “shouted” and “used the F word,” asking whether she thought Americans care about Ukraine, and predicting that "people will hear about this." According to Kelly, Pompeo asked for aides to bring him a map without country names marked and asked her to identify Ukraine.

"I pointed to Ukraine he put the map away, he said, people will hear about this, and then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left," Kelly, who has a masters degree in European Studies from Cambridge University, said Friday.

Pompeo did not dispute Kelly's claim that she had correctly identified Ukraine. “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine,” he said in his statement — but did not allege that Kelly had done so.