Pompeo Won't Say Whether He Owes Yovanovitch An Apology. 'I've Done What's Right'

Jan 24, 2020
Originally published on January 26, 2020 10:26 am

Updated on Saturday at 3:01 p.m.

With the State Department facing continued questions over the treatment of Marie Yovanovitch before she was recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not say on Friday whether he owed the career diplomat an apology.

"I've defended every single person on this team," Pompeo said in an interview with NPR. "I've done what's right for every single person on this team."

Pressed on whether he could point to specific remarks in which he defended Yovanovitch, Pompeo responded, "I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that."

The exchange with Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered, follows the release by House Democrats last week of messages suggesting that Yovanovitch may have been under surveillance in the days before she was told to return to Washington from her posting in Kyiv last year.

The messages were sent between Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate and fervent Trump supporter, and Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. He was indicted in October on campaign finance charges.

Parnas has emerged as a central figure in efforts by Giuliani to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate political rivals of Trump. That campaign is now the focus of the ongoing impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate.

Possible surveillance of a U.S. ambassador

The State Department itself is now investigating the possible surveillance of Yovanovitch, who during testimony before House impeachment investigators in November said she had felt threatened by Trump. Before her recall, Yovanovitch had been accused of disloyalty by allies of the White House, and during his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump said of Yovanovitch, "She's going to go through some things."

In an interview last week with the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, Pompeo said he "never heard" that Yovanovitch may have been under surveillance. In her testimony before the House, Yovanovitch said she was told by the State Department that she was being recalled because of concerns about her "security."

Pompeo has come under criticism — including, at times, from career diplomats in his own department — for failing to more forcefully defend Yovanovitch in the face of political attacks. During testimony before impeachment investigators, for example, Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Pompeo, said he resigned from the department in part over what he interpreted to be a "lack of public support for Department employees."

"I'm not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said," Pompeo said on Friday. But he dismissed the suggestion that a shadow foreign policy involving Ukraine was in place.

"The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here, and our policy was very clear," Pompeo said.

Immediately after the questions on Ukraine, the interview concluded. Pompeo stood, leaned in and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.

A few moments later, an aide asked Kelly to follow her into Pompeo's private living room at the State Department without a recorder. The aide did not say the ensuing exchange would be off the record.

Inside the room, Pompeo shouted his displeasure at being questioned about Ukraine and asked Kelly to identify the country on a map, which she did. He used repeated expletives, according to Kelly, and asked, "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" He then said, "People will hear about this."

In a statement Saturday, Pompeo disputed NPR's account of the interaction.

"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," he said. "It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency. 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."

"It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine."

In a statement, NPR Senior Vice President for News Nancy Barnes said, "Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report."

The U.S. and Iran

The interview began with a series of questions about the Trump administration's policy toward Iran. Pompeo defended the president's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, saying it is "absolutely working."

"This is a regime that has been working to develop its nuclear program for years and years and years. And the nuclear deal guaranteed them a pathway to having a nuclear program," Pompeo said in reference to the international agreement signed by Iran, the U.S., the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union in 2015. "It was a certainty. It might have been delayed for a month or a year or five or 10 years, but it guaranteed them that pathway. This administration has pulled the Band-Aid off."

As the nation's chief diplomat, Pompeo has played a central role in shaping the president's more aggressive posture toward Iran. It's a policy Pompeo has described as "reestablishing deterrence."

The policy has taken many forms. Less than two weeks after Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state in 2018, Trump announced the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The announcement was followed by the reinstatement of steep economic sanctions against Tehran.

Under Pompeo, the State Department has also designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time the U.S. has given that label to the branch of another government.

Yet perhaps no action has been more controversial than the administration's decision this month to launch the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's influential Quds Force, outside the airport in Baghdad. While the administration has declined to offer specifics about the intelligence that prompted the strike, Pompeo has defended the president's order, saying it was carried out in response to an "imminent threat" of attack on U.S. embassies.

For days, the killing revived fears of an all-out war. Iran retaliated with strikes against two bases housing American troops in Iraq. No Americans died in the attack, though the U.S. military later revealed that 34 service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

Tensions have since eased, but the episode has renewed questions about whether the president's "maximum pressure" campaign has emboldened Tehran. Since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, Iran has shot down a U.S. drone, targeted oil tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and been blamed for a debilitating attack on Saudi oil facilities.

At the same time, Iran has stepped away from key provisions of the nuclear deal. In an interview this month with NPR, the country's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said "all limits" on centrifuges used to enrich uranium "are now suspended."

"He's blustering," Pompeo said in Friday's interview. "This is a regime that has never been in the position that it's in today."

The secretary declined, however, to detail specifics of the administration's policy for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, saying only, "We'll stop them."

Pompeo would not say whether direct U.S. engagement is taking place with Iran but did say the administration has built a coalition that's working to put pressure on Iran to end its missile program, its processing of uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium.

He said the U.S. has also "raised the cost" for Iran's use of force through proxy groups in the Middle East.

"This is beginning to place real choices in front of the Iranian regime," Pompeo said. "You can see in the protests inside of Iran. You can see the Iranian people not happy with their own government when they have to raise the fuel cost. All the things that are undermining this regime's ability to inflict risk on the American people are coming to fruition as a direct result of President Trump's strategy."

He would not comment on whether a new deal is being developed in order to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon, but instead said, "The economic, military and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome."

"The Iranian leadership will have to make the decision about what its behavior is going to be," he said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is at the center of many of the most contentious issues in Washington. His name has come up repeatedly as part of the impeachment trial of President Trump, and he is a key player in the U.S. handling of Iran - two topics our co-host Mary Louise Kelly asked the secretary about today. She sat down with Pompeo this morning in the east hall of the Treaty Room outside the secretary's offices. We are airing their full interview start to finish - no edits.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Secretary of State, good to see you.

MIKE POMPEO: Good to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show.

KELLY: Let's start with Iran. What is the plan? And on diplomacy specifically, is there any serious initiative to reopen diplomacy with Iran?

POMPEO: So we've been engaged in deep diplomatic efforts since the first day of the Trump administration. We've built out a coalition that is working together - Gulf states, Israel, many European countries - to deliver on the three central outcomes that we're looking for.

KELLY: But in terms of U.S. engagement with Iran, is there any talks underway, any plan for talks?

POMPEO: You know, we never talk about private conversations that are taking place, but the diplomatic effort on this front has been vigorous, robust and enormously successful. We built out a significant coalition that has put pressure on the Iranian regime to do what we've asked, to cease its processing of uranium, reprocessing of plutonium, to stop its missile program and the development of its missile program - President Trump made clear. They're not going to have a nuclear program that is capable of delivering these weapons around the world.

And then finally, working to convince them that their model, this proxy model that they've used to conduct terror campaigns - assassinations in Europe, assassination attempt right here in Washington, D.C. - is not tolerable.

KELLY: You used the word pressure. This is the maximum pressure campaign that President Trump put into place a year and a half ago, when he pulled out of the nuclear deal. But in that year and a half, Iran has behaved more provocatively, not less. So is maximum pressure working?

POMPEO: Absolutely working. To put it in context, this is 40 years. When you say worse - they held American hostages in our embassy in Tehran. They had our sailors kneeling. The previous administration gave them billions and billions of dollars to underwrite the very actions that they're taking today. When we came into office, it took a lot of work to fundamentally reshape the diplomatic, military and economic landscape. So it didn't happen instantaneously, but we've made an enormous amount of progress in delivering...

KELLY: But in the last year, they have targeted tankers in the Gulf. They have shot down a U.S. drone. They have attacked Saudi oil facilities. Is that the desired outcome?

POMPEO: No, of course not. Of course we don't want them to do those things. And we've raised the cost for doing those. The response in the previous administration when they undertook those actions was to reward them, to reward them, to give them billions and billions of dollars to allow countries to trade with them, to allow them to do all the things that you're seeing today.

The ramifications, the tail, the end result of what the previous administration is, the activity that we're seeing today, the money that underwrote Hezbollah, that underwrites Hamas, that underwrites Shia militias in Iraq is a direct result of the resources that were provided to them for the eight years prior to us coming into office. We are turning this around. We have reduced resources. We've seen it. They have fewer dollars available. This is beginning to place real choices in front of the Iranian regime.

And you can see it, too. You can see it in the protests inside of Iran. You can see the Iranian people not happy with their own government when they have to raise the fuel cost. All of the things that are undermining this regime's ability to inflict risk on the American people are coming to fruition as a direct result of President Trump's strategy.

KELLY: President Trump's strategy has included pulling out of the nuclear deal. Since the president came to office, Iran has moved closer to a nuclear weapons capability. They are closer today than they were when he took office. They are spinning more centrifuges. They are stockpiling more enriched uranium. If the plan is to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, how do you do that when they're not abiding by the limits of the old deal and there's no new deal in sight?

POMPEO: You have to - you're picking the wrong moment to start your analysis. This is the fundamental flaw of the JCPOA itself. This is...

KELLY: I'm picking the moment when the president pulled out of the nuclear deal. And since then...

POMPEO: This is a regime...

KELLY: ...They're closer to having a nuclear weapon.

POMPEO: ...That has been working to develop its nuclear program for years and years and years. And the nuclear deal guaranteed them a pathway to having a nuclear program. It's - it was a certainty. It might have been delayed for a month or a year or five or 10 years, but it guaranteed them that pathway. This administration has pulled the Band-Aid off. It's been realistic. We accept the facts on the ground as they are. This is a regime that lied to get into that nuclear deal. You can see that now in what's going on at the IAEA in Turquzabad, where we now know that they lied about the scope of their program.

These are important, Mary Louise; these are important items. You can't talk about the Iranian nuclear program without acknowledging the facts of what this regime has been up to. They stored documents. They kept technology in place. They dispersed it as a result of the JCPOA. They didn't have it in a central research agency, but they continued to develop their program. And this administration is determined to prevent them from getting that weapon - not now, not a year from now and not 10 years from now.

KELLY: But again, you say you're determined to prevent them. How do you stop them? I was in Tehran two weeks ago. I sat down with your counterpart there, Javad Zarif, and he told me, quote, "all limits on our centrifuge program are now suspended."

POMPEO: Yeah, he's blustering. Look - the truth of the matter is this is a regime that's never...

KELLY: Do you have evidence that he's blustering?

POMPEO: This is a regime that has never been in the position that it's in today, where it has to confront so many elements - the challenge, the central thesis of the theocracy and the revolutionary nature of this regime. And you can see it in protests not just in Tehran.

And you should know, when you traveled there, I'm guessing you weren't permitted to travel freely. I'm guessing that you didn't get a chance to go out into these places where the life of the Iranian people - these are people who are suffering. Qassem Soleimani, who we removed from the battlefield, killed hundreds of Iranians, and the Iranian people know that, and it's been our strategy that has delivered this message of freedom for the Iranian people.

KELLY: But my question again - how do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

POMPEO: We'll stop them.

KELLY: How? Sanctions?

POMPEO: We'll stop them. The president made it very clear - the opening sentence in his remarks said that we will never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon. The coalition that we built out, the economic, military and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome. It's important because this will protect the American people.

KELLY: Is there any new deal being developed, a new nuclear deal, something that would rein in Iran, something that they would agree to?

POMPEO: The Iranian leadership will have to make the decision about what its behavior is going to be.

KELLY: Change of subject - Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

POMPEO: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That's what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for three years of this administration. I'm proud of the work we've done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up MREs; we showed up with Javelin missiles. Previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We're working hard on that. We're going to continue to do it. I just don't have...

KELLY: I confirmed with your staff last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

POMPEO: I just don't have anything else to say about that this morning.

KELLY: I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this because, as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up...

POMPEO: I don't...

KELLY: ...For the diplomats who work here.

POMPEO: I don't know who these unnamed sources are you're referring to. I can tell you this. When I talk to...

KELLY: These are not unnamed sources.

POMPEO: When I talk to my team here...

KELLY: This is your senior adviser Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer with four decades experience who testified under oath that he resigned in part due to the failure of the State Department to offer support to foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.

POMPEO: Yeah. I'm not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said. I'll say only this - I have defended every State Department official. We've built a great team. The team that works here...

KELLY: Sir, respectfully...

POMPEO: ...Is doing amazing work around the world.

KELLY: ...Where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

POMPEO: I've defended every single person on this team. I've done what's right for every single person on this team.

KELLY: Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?

POMPEO: Mary, I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.

KELLY: One further question on this...

POMPEO: I'm not going to - I appreciate that. I appreciate you want to continue to talk about this. I agreed to come on your show today to talk about...

KELLY: And you appreciate that the American public wants to know, as a shadow foreign policy, as a back channel policy on Ukraine was being developed, did you try to block it?

POMPEO: The Ukraine policy's been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here, and our policy was very clear.

KELLY: Marie Yovanovitch testified...

POMPEO: I've been clear about that.

KELLY: ...Under oath that Ukraine policy was hijacked.

POMPEO: I've been clear about that. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you for your time. Thank you.

KELLY: Secretary, thank you. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Mary Louise Kelly is here in the studio. And Mary Louise, will you explain what's happening at the end of the interview there?

KELLY: Hey, Ari. What is happening there is an aide has stopped the interview - said, we're done; thank you. And you heard me thank the secretary. He did not reply. He leaned in, glared at me and then turned and, with his aides, left the room. Moments later, the same staffer who had stopped the interview reappeared, asked me to come with her - just me, no recorder, though she did not say we were off the record, nor would I have agreed.

I was taken to the secretary's private living room where he was waiting and where he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. 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. 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.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

KELLY: We have reached out to the State Department to let them know we plan to report this coda to the interview, and we have not yet heard back.

SHAPIRO: That is our co-host Mary Louise Kelly.

Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And we have posted the full unedited transcript of her interview with the secretary of state on our website - npr.org

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