Support the news

Mary Louise Kelly Made One Mistake: Trusting Mike Pompeo To Begin With

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Francisco Seco/AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Francisco Seco/AP)

Mary Louise Kelly’s only mistake was expecting an honest exchange with the mendacious Mike Pompeo.

The secretary of state’s expletive-laden tirade against the host of NPR's All Things Considered distracted precisely no one from his refusal to answer her questions about the rogue operation in Ukraine that has landed his boss in the impeachment dock.

He had agreed only to discuss Iran during their interview, Pompeo claimed, accusing Kelly of sandbagging him twice, once by pressing him on Ukraine and again by failing to keep confidential his post-interview profanity-laced denunciation of her intelligence and that of her audience. “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine,” he screamed at her, modifying at least one of those proper nouns with the “f-word,” according to Kelly. He then ordered an aide to produce an unlabeled map of Europe and challenged Kelly to locate Ukraine. (As an aside: who keeps blank maps handy on the off-chance an opportunity to humiliate a visitor presents itself?)

Pompeo would have us believe that the former international correspondent, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard who holds a master's degree in European Studies from Cambridge University, misidentified Ukraine as Bangladesh. Never mind that the former is the largest country entirely in Europe and that the latter is located more than 3000 miles away in south-central Asia. In the cowardly manner that is typical of officials in this administration, Pompeo did not make that claim directly. Instead he concluded an extraordinary public statement in which he called Kelly a liar with the schoolyard taunt that “Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine."

... despite the devout wishes of this administration, we still have a free press in this country.

Republican control of the U.S. Senate might well shield Pompeo, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani from testifying at the impeachment trial but, despite the devout wishes of this administration, we still have a free press in this country. It is only through the courage of an anonymous whistleblower and the dogged reporting of journalists that we know as much as we do about the back-channel pressure campaign on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joe Biden in service of Trump’s re-election campaign.

Contrary to Pompeo’s contention, Americans are not indifferent to the plight of Ukrainians who have been locked for more than five years in a war with Russian forces and their proxies to preserve their independence. That is why there was bipartisan outrage last summer when Trump without explanation held up almost $400 million appropriated by Congress for military aid to Ukraine, a move that the Government Accountability Office earlier this month said violated federal law.

A majority of Americans think Trump was wrong when he urged the new president of Ukraine to do him a “favor” and announce a probe into Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. That shakedown — the link between the demand for an investigation of the Bidens and the release of the military aid — is at the heart of the impeachment case against Trump.

Pompeo’s skin is as thin as Trump’s and his outbursts are just as juvenile, but he lacks his boss’s gift for deflection. He would like to reframe this episode of public bullying as an example of why “Americans distrust many in the media.” But it won’t wash. Mary Louise Kelly was doing her job, asking the secretary direct questions and pressing him when he did not respond. The audio makes clear there was nothing contentious in her queries or belligerent in her tone.

Kelly incited Pompeo’s ire because she asked him questions he did not want to answer. Pompeo balked when Kelly asked whether he owed an apology to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Trump ousted last year at the urging of Giuliani and two of his associates, who are now under federal indictment for campaign finance law violations.

Kelly incited Pompeo’s ire because she asked him questions he did not want to answer.

One of those associates, Lev Parnas, a Ukranian-American businessman, released a videotape last week from a dinner for campaign donors on which he claimed the ambassador had mocked Trump in public. Trump then summarily demanded that Yovanovitch be fired. “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” Trump said.

Critics within the State Department complained that Pompeo did not come to the defense of Yovanovitch, a career diplomat with 32 years of service under Democratic and Republican presidents. Several senior advisors have left the State Department in disgust, citing the “toxic” environment for Foreign Service officers under the Trump Administration.

When Kelly reminded Pompeo that Yovanovitch testified before the House impeachment proceedings that the nation’s Ukraine policy had been hijacked by Guiliani and his team, the nation’s top diplomat bristled. “I know exactly what we were doing. I know precisely what the direction that the State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy,” he said. Then, why not answer Kelly’s questions? Pompeo ended the interview instead.

He was still fuming Sunday, tweeting the words of Proverbs 10:18. “Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.” Pompeo should have kept reading. Proverbs 10:19 reads,  “He that refraineth his lips is wise.”

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news