NPR reporter barred from Mike Pompeo trip after tense interview

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Mr Pompeo has not disputed the content of the post-interview conversation

The US state department has removed an NPR reporter from the press pool for Secretary Mike Pompeo's upcoming foreign trip, days after a tense interview with another NPR journalist.

The radio network said it was not given a reason behind Michele Kelemen's ban. A press representative said the decision amounted to retaliation.

The state department has not commented.

In Friday's interview, Mr Pompeo was asked repeatedly about Ukraine and ousted US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked him whether he defended or should have defended Ms Yovanovitch, whose removal was a key factor leading to the impeachment of President Donald Trump by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month.

Kelly said that, after the nine-minute interview, she was taken by a Pompeo aide to his private living room where he shouted at her, cursed repeatedly and asked: "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?"

According to Kelly, he asked her if she could find Ukraine on a map, to which she said "Yes". "He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked," she said on NPR later. "I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, 'People will hear about this'."

The exchange in the post-interview was not recorded. Kelly, a veteran national correspondent who has recently reported from Iran, said the aide had not said the conversation was off the record, and that she would not have agreed to it.

Image source, Frazer Harrison/Getty
Image caption, Mary Louise Kelly conducted a tense interview with Mr Pompeo

NPR confirmed that Kelemen, who has covered the state department for nearly two decades, would not be allowed to travel with Mr Pompeo on the government flight to Europe and Central Asia. The trip starts on Thursday.

In a statement, Shaun Tandon, head of the State Department Correspondents' Association (SDCA) said: "The State Department press corps has a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association."

It added: "We respectfully ask the State Department to reconsider and allow Michele to travel on the plane for this trip."

When first asked about Ukraine in the interview, Mr Pompeo said he had agreed "to talk about Iran". Kelly reacted by saying: "I confirmed with your staff last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine."

He then responded: "I just don't have anything else to say about that this morning."

Media caption, What's Ukraine got to do with the Trump impeachment?

On Saturday, Mr Pompeo reacted in a strongly-worded statement, saying "Kelly lied to me, twice" - first about the terms of the interview and then in agreeing to have "our post-interview conversation off the record". He did not provide any evidence.

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

He added, appearing to suggest that Kelly had pointed to the wrong country on the map: "It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine."

The secretary did not dispute the content of the post-interview conversation, and NPR said it stood by Kelly's reporting.

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