Impeachment Briefing: ‘Take Her Out’

But this evening the story took another turn, when we learned about an interview that Mary Louise Kelly, a host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” conducted Friday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

After a series of tough questions about why Mr. Pompeo had not done more to publicly back Ms. Yovanovitch during the impeachment inquiry — a subject the secretary of state has avoided addressing for months — Mr. Pompeo called Ms. Kelly to a private room.

Once inside, Ms. Kelly said, Mr. Pompeo unleashed an expletive-laden tirade at her. He asked her, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” and told an aide bring in an unmarked map to prove she could locate the country.

Before ending the meeting, Ms. Kelly said, Mr. Pompeo told her: “People will hear about this.”

The timing of Mr. Pompeo’s comments was extraordinary: Just this morning, the State Department announced that he plans to visit Ukraine later this month, when he’ll become the first cabinet official from the Trump administration to meet with Ukraine’s president since the impeachment inquiry began. The idea of the trip, the State Department said, is “to highlight U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

To get a sense of the circumstances that led to the confrontation, I talked to my colleague David Sanger, who has covered Mr. Pompeo extensively.

David, what explains the outburst?

I wasn’t there, but I can tell you that Mary Louise Kelly of NPR is a true professional and an excellent, experienced correspondent. I’m not surprised she pressed him on Ukraine. And I’m not surprised he responded as he did. Mr. Pompeo is known for a bombastic, contentious style. He can be thin-skinned. He’s had a contentious relationship with a number of reporters, pushing back at their questions.

Other than the tough questions, what do you think really set him off?

He gets irked whenever he is pressed about Ukraine, and specifically on whether he pushed back when the president wanted to get rid of a respected career ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, and cut off the aid to the country. In fact, we believe Mr. Pompeo pressed the president over the summer to restore that aid — but he has never said so, presumably because that would reveal a crack in the administration’s unity on the issue. He often says that internal deliberations, and disagreements, are not something he or anyone in the administration should discuss. And he enforces that inside the State Department.