Pompeo says NPR host 'lied' and mistook Bangladesh for Ukraine but doesn't dispute he cursed at her

Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday accused an NPR reporter of lying about whether she had agreed to keep a remarkable post-interview conversation off the record. 

In an unusual statement, Pompeo shot back at NPR host Mary Louise Kelly after she reported that he grew irritated at her questions about Ukraine and shouted at her in an expletive-laced exchange when the interview was over. 

Pompeo said Kelly had agreed that conversation was off-the-record; she said no State Department officials made that stipulation and she would not have agreed to it. Pompeo also suggested, but did not directly state, that Kelly could not point out Ukraine on a map, contrary to her account of the conversation.

Pompeo did not dispute Kelly's most explosive allegation: that he shouted and swore at her and suggested Americans don't care about Ukraine.  

"NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice," Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department. "First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview off the record."

NPR's senior vice president for news, Nancy Barnes, said the station stood by Kelly's account. “Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report,” she said on Saturday.  

Kelly interviewed Pompeo on Friday about Iran and Ukraine. Kelly said Pompeo became agitated when she pressed him about his response to attacks on former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Pompeo: After interview, Pompeo cursed at reporter, yelled: 'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?'

At President Donald Trump's direction, Pompeo ousted Yovanovitch early from her post amid a smear campaign by the president's allies. The former ambassador is a widely respected career diplomat, and Pompeo has declined multiple times to publicly defend her, amid ongoing attacks from Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani.

Kelly asked Pompeo if he owed Yovanovitch an apology, and continued to press him when he avoided directly answering her questions.

After the interview, Kelly said she was taken into Pompeo's private living room. 

"'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?'" Pompeo apparently shouted at Kelly after the interview. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about Iran, Tuesday Jan. 7, 2020, at the State Department in Washington.

"He used the F-word in that sentence and many others," Kelly said. "He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away."

Pompeo, in his Saturday statement, suggested Kelly did not correctly identify the location of Ukraine on the map. Before becoming a host at NPR, Kelly spent a decade working as the station's national security reporter, a role in which she traveled extensively, according to her NPR biography.

"It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine," Pompeo's statement said.   

"It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency," Pompeo added. "This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration."

Pompeo's public tussle over Ukraine comes at an awkward time. Trump's top diplomat is scheduled to travel to Ukraine next week for a meeting with that country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a central figure in the impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine, a pivotal U.S. ally in the effort to counter Russian aggression, for political favors.

The State Department said Pompeo is going to Kyiv to "highlight U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity." The Eastern European country is at war with Russia. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pompeo: NPR host 'lied,' didn't know Bangladesh from Ukraine