WASHINGTON — The State Department will not allow National Public Radio’s diplomatic correspondent on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s government airplane for an upcoming trip, which includes a stop in Ukraine, following the secretary’s extraordinary outburst last week over being questioned about Ukraine during an interview with the network.
Michele Keleman, who has covered the State Department for nearly two decades, was scheduled to cover Pompeo’s official visit this week to Europe and Central Asia, traveling with the diplomatic delegation.
She was told Sunday that she would not be allowed to fly as a member of the press pool on the government airplane with Pompeo. It was not clear how long the ban on her travel with Pompeo’s official delegations might last.
The association of journalists covering the State Department issued a statement Monday criticizing the action as improper retaliation against NPR.
Journalists who regularly cover the department have “a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association,” Shaun Tandon, president of the State Department Correspondents’ Association, said in a statement.
The upcoming trip includes a stop in Kyiv — the first visit there by Pompeo since Congress opened impeachment proceedings over accusations that President Trump tried to leverage $391 million in security aid to prompt Ukraine to launch an investigation into his political rivals.
Witnesses have said Pompeo was aware of the scheme and of a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that undercut his own diplomats there; the secretary of state has insisted he did nothing wrong.
In an interview last Friday, Pompeo accused Mary Louise Kelly, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” of blindsiding him with questions about his role in the Ukraine controversy, even though she had earlier informed his aides that she would ask him about that country. Kelly has described a tense exchange after a taped part of the interview. “He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’” she said. “He used the F-word in that sentence and many others.”
On Saturday, Pompeo issued an extraordinary response for a senior US government official, saying Kelly lied to him about the terms of the interview and violated “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,” Pompeo said.
His reaction has been widely criticized by lawmakers, foreign policy experts, and press advocates. Even a Fox News host, Steve Hilton, a self-described “big fan” of Pompeo, chided his “whining” invective.
“For goodness’ sakes, Mr. Secretary, don’t be such a baby,” Hilton said Monday. “You should be able to handle tough questions by now. And don’t be such a bully.”