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Pompeo calls NPR reporter a liar after she asks about Ukraine

Katia Dmitrieva
Bloomberg News

Washington — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo kept a feud with an NPR reporter alive on Sunday, taking to his personal Twitter account to post a Bible quote about lying and slander.

The post came a day after Pompeo’s unusual, official statement attacking NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and the media in general after a contentious interview with questions about Ukraine that she said ended with him unleashing an expletive-laced tirade.

Pompeo accused Kelly of lying to him twice, including while setting the interview up in December and by disclosing his alleged outburst following that conversation, which he said was “off the record.” He cited no evidence.

“This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration,” Pompeo said in his statement.

Five Democrats from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wrote to Pompeo on Saturday, terming his comments beneath the dignity of his office, and the chief executive of NPR said the radio network wouldn’t be intimidated.

Pompeo on Sunday tweeted a Bible verse that “Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool” from his personal account, in what appeared to be a fresh dig at Kelly.

NPR’s CEO John Lansing said Saturday on the radio network that Kelly has an email string communicating with Pompeo's aide that indicates Kelly told the secretary of state's staff Ukraine was among the topics she wanted to discuss with Pompeo.

In Friday’s interview, Kelly asked Pompeo about former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her role. Democrats say the diplomat was seen as an impediment to President Donald Trump’s demands that Ukraine investigate Democrat Joe Biden. A tape revealed this week appears to capture Trump saying “take her out.”

Pompeo has repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters about his acquiescence in Trump’s decision to recall Yovanovitch, and has sidestepped questions about the reason for her removal, beyond saying the president lost confidence in her.

Blank Map

Kelly, the host of NPR’s All Things Considered, said that Pompeo’s aides agreed to questions on the topic ahead of time.

Following the interview at the State Department, Kelly said Pompeo summoned her to an adjacent room, where he shouted at her and used profanities for a time equal to the length of the interview itself.

He also asked his aides to bring out a blank map and demanded that the veteran reporter identify Ukraine. Kelly, who graduated from Harvard and has a masters degree in European studies from Cambridge University, said she did so accurately.

Pompeo seemed to suggest that she didn’t, in fact, point to the correct country, concluding his statement by saying: “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.”

Contemptuous’ Comments

The two countries are about 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) apart.

“Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report,” Nancy Barnes, NPR’s senior vice president of news, said in an emailed statement.

Lansing said Saturday  that while it’s not unusual to have tension between government officials and journalists, “this goes well beyond tension. This goes towards intimidation. And let me just say this. We will not be intimidated.”

The spat lit up social media, with the Twitter hashtags #Bangladesh, #Pompeo and #PompeoMeltdown trending on Saturday.

“Your insulting and contemptuous comments are beneath the office of the Secretary of State,” Foreign Relations Commitee ranking Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey and four other senators wrote to Pompeo. “Instead of calling journalists liars’ and insulting their intelligence when they ask you hard questions you would rather not answer, your oath of office places on you a duty and obligation to engage respectfully and transparently.”

Officials including Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, flew to Kelly’s defense on Saturday. “When I was in government I dealt with Mary Louise Kelly a fair bit,” Hayden said on Twitter. “I found her to be a real professional. Tough questions, tough answers but totally honest. She’s no liar.”

Pompeo’s role in executing Trump’s policy toward Ukraine is sure to attract fresh attention when he visits Kyiv on Thursday and Friday.