US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched into a profanity-laced rant against an NPR reporter after an interview, the news organisation says, apparently frustrated by questions he had been asked about Ukraine and former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
During an interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly that aired, Pompeo refused to say whether he owed an apology to Yovanovitch, whose firing has featured prominently in President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry. An aide ended the interview after Kelly pressed Pompeo for a response.
Kelly recounted what happened next in a report that accompanied her interview. She said a staffer brought her to Pompeo's private sitting room, where he was waiting for her. Although she was not allowed to bring her recording equipment into the room, she said there was no request that she keep the exchange off the record, and she would not have agreed to a conversation if it was off the record.
"He shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted," Kelly reported.
"He asked me, 'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?' " she continued. "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 him 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.' "
Kelly said Pompeo was not "not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine," though during the recorded interview, she told Pompeo she cleared the topics of Ukraine and Iran with his aides beforehand.
In a statement released early Saturday, Pompeo confirmed that a conversation had taken place after the interview. But he accused Kelly of having "lied to me, twice," first in setting up the terms of the interview and then again in agreeing to keeping the "post-interview conversation" off the record.
"It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency," the secretary said. "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."
The statement ended with a vague, unexplained assertion - "It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine" - that seemed to imply that Kelly, who holds a master's degree in European studies from Cambridge University, got her geography wrong.
"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 response to Pompeo's claims.
Five Democratic senators criticised the secretary's statement as "irresponsible" . In a letter to Pompeo, Bob Menendez, Tim Kaine, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, and Cory Booker, said they were concerned about "the corrosive effects of your behavior on American values and standing in the world."
"At a time when journalists around the world are being jailed for their reporting - and as in the case of Jamal Khashoggi, killed - your insulting and contemptuous comments are beneath the office of the Secretary of State," they wrote. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, was killed by the Saudi regime.
"Instead of calling journalists 'liars' and insulting their intelligence when they ask you hard questions you would rather not answer," the letter continued, "your oath of office places on you a duty and obligation to engage respectfully and transparently."
During the interview with Kelly, Pompeo responded to her inquiry about whether he owed Yovanovitch an apology by saying that he was proud of the Trump administration's work on Ukraine. He added: "The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We're working hard on that."
Kelly pressed again, pointing out that Pompeo's former senior adviser Michael McKinley had testified that he resigned in part because the State Department did not support employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry.
"I'm not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said," Pompeo responded. "I'll say only this: I have defended every State Department official. We've built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world."
Kelly asked where he had defended Yovanovitch and whether he could point her to his remarks.
"I've said all I'm going to say today, thank you," Pompeo said. "Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so; I appreciate that."