Why a question about Ukraine sent Mike Pompeo into a rage

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly verbally harassed an NPR reporter for having the audacity to ask him about his leadership … of the State Department.

During a Friday interview with Pompeo on US policy toward Iran, All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly asked the secretary of state whether he owed an apology to Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch is the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was subjected to a smear campaign led by Rudy Giuliani and was unceremoniously removed from her post in April, bringing an abrupt end to her 33-year career as a foreign service officer.

Pompeo was not pleased with the change in topic or the question. “You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran,” Pompeo replied. “That’s what I intend to do.”

Kelly, noting that she’d confirmed with Pompeo’s staff that Ukraine would be part of the interview, didn’t give up — and Pompeo abruptly ended the interview.

But that’s not where the story ends. Shortly after the interview aired, Kelly revealed what happened after she turned off her recorder:

The State Department did not immediately respond to Vox’s request for comment.

This isn’t the first time Pompeo has lashed out at reporters for asking tough questions. But Pompeo’s fury this time seems directly related to the growing controversy around the treatment of Yovanovitch.

Why the question about Marie Yovanovitch matters

Yovanovitch was removed from her post as ambassador in April 2019; later, it surfaced that in a July phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, President Donald Trump smeared the ambassador, describing her as “bad news.” On the same call, he intimated to Zelensky that “she’s going to go through some things.”

In November, Yovanovitch testified under oath in the House impeachment inquiry that his comments “sounded like a threat.”

Since then, new evidence has emerged suggesting that associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, had Yovanovitch under surveillance in Ukraine.

In WhatsApp messages to indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, Republican congressional candidate Robert F. Hyde not only provided details about Yovanovitch’s movements, but told Parnas, “If you want her out they need to make contact with security forces.”

Additionally, on Friday, ABC News reported on the existence of a tape of the president ordering Yovanovitch’s firing. A voice that sounds like the president’s can be heard demanding that an aide “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow … Take her out.”

Following the release of Parnas’s WhatsApp messages by the House Intelligence Committee as part of a larger documents trove last week, Ukraine announced that it had opened a criminal investigation into the purported surveillance of Yovanovitch.

Pompeo, meanwhile, cast doubt on the allegations in an interview with right-wing radio host Tony Katz, saying, “I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong.”

In the same interview, Pompeo conceded that it was his “obligation as secretary of state” to open an investigation into claims that Yovanovitch had been surveilled.

However, he failed to offer any defense of Yovanovitch, a veteran of the State Department who has served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.