Finding himself in a hole, Pompeo reaches for a shovel, digs deeper

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's on-air performance on NPR was equal parts evasive and cringe-worthy. His off-air performance was quite a bit worse.
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By Steve Benen

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down on Friday with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, and as the broadcast made clear, it did not go well for the controversial cabinet secretary. He whined about the lines of inquiry, pretended well-known officials were "unnamed sources," and dodged reasonable questions as part of a display that was equal parts evasive and cringe-worthy.

What was not immediately obvious at the time of the interview, however, was how much worse Pompeo would make matters after the broadcast.

[Kelly] said Pompeo then glared at her and left the room with his aides. An aide soon returned to the interview room and took her to Pompeo's private living room where he screamed and cursed at her, she said.

"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," she said.

"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, and then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left."

There is no element of this that's defensible. Under no circumstances should the nation's chief diplomat shout obscenities at a professional journalist who was doing her job, and doing it well. For him to suggest that Americans don't care about Ukraine -- on the eve of a scheduled trip to Ukraine -- added insult to injury.

Also note that Pompeo and his entourage apparently have immediate access to a blank map of eastern Europe -- I'd love to know why -- which the secretary used to quiz Kelly. What the Kansas Republican apparently didn't realize is that the Harvard-trained NPR journalist has a post-graduate degree in European studies from Cambridge University in England.

If we were to stop here, it would be a humiliating series of events for the secretary of State, who's already reeling from the Trump Ukraine scandal. But Pompeo, after finding himself in a hole, thought it'd be a good idea to reach for a shovel.

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 went on to lash out at what he described as the "unhinged" American media, which he accused of engaging in some kind of conspiracy against the administration, adding, "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. "

For good measure, the cabinet secretary added, in apparent reference to NPR's Kelly, "It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine."

If Pompeo was under the impression that this little add-on tantrum would improve his position, he was mistaken.

Not only is there no reason to believe Kelly ever lied to Pompeo -- there's documentary evidence to the contrary -- but given the circumstances and his apparent conduct, he really ought to avoid throwing around words like "decency" and "integrity."

What's more, note that the Republican made no effort to deny the accuracy of Kelly's version of events. And the idea that an experienced national security reporter like Kelly -- again, who has a post-graduate degree in European studies -- would confuse Ukraine and Bangladesh on a map is plainly ridiculous. (Part of me assumes Pompeo meant to say Belarus, not Bangladesh, since Belarus actually borders Ukraine.)

Americans didn't need another reason to question whether Pompeo is the right person for his very important job. He provided another reason anyway.

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