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Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo: 'I Have Defended Every State Department Official'


As the impeachment trial goes on, House Democrats would love to be able to bring in a series of witnesses to share what they know of President Trump's actions in Ukraine, including the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. But he has refused a House subpoena. But NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered, was able to put her own questions to the secretary this morning in a one-on-one interview at the State Department.

And Mary Louise joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So as I noted, Secretary of State Pompeo did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry. And quite frankly, he just hasn't fielded a lot of questions publicly about Ukraine at all, which, of course, he's at the center of this. So there you are, you're able to put your own questions to him. What did you ask him? What did he say?

KELLY: Well, he didn't want to field a lot of questions on Ukraine today either. What he wanted to talk about was Iran, as did I, of course, given given all of the recent developments. And we spent the bulk of our time talking Iran. And I'll tell you about that in a minute.

I only had about 10 minutes with him. But I had flagged last night that I also wanted to talk about Ukraine, and that portion of our conversation got testy. I started by asking about Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv until she was pulled out with urgency last year. And I want to play you a longish section of that interview. Here we go.

Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

MIKE 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 with 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 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 talked...

KELLY: These are not unnamed sources. 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 is doing amazing work around the world.

KELLY: Sir, respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

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

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

POMPEO: I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you.

MARTIN: Wow. I mean, that's an incredible exchange. After that, I mean, were you able to ask anymore about Ukraine?

KELLY: I was able to get in one more question. And what I was specifically curious about was, you know, this is the secretary of state, what were his thoughts? As we have learned - everything we have learned about this back channel shadow Ukraine policy being run by the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

And so I asked about that and asked Secretary Pompeo, did you try to block that back channel policy? He said Ukraine policy has been run through the State Department. It has always been run through the State Department. He said, I know precisely the direction of policy because I've been running it. And with that, we were cut off. His staff got him up and out, and the interview was over.

MARTIN: But as you noted earlier, you were able to talk about Iran. You have done reporting from Tehran. That was the bulk of your conversation with the secretary. What did you learn there?

KELLY: What I learned is that Secretary Pompeo believes the maximum pressure campaign is working. We had a good exchange back-and-forth on that where I said if maximum pressure is working, why is Iran behaving more provocatively today than it was before this campaign? And why is Iran closer to a nuclear capability than it was when President Trump took office? We went back-and-forth on that.

I asked specifically about what the Trump administration will actually do to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon, given that they are closer to a nuclear capability now than they were when President Trump took office. Secretary Pompeo said, we will stop them. He would not get into details, said he doesn't want to talk about private conversations in terms of diplomatic initiatives.

He pointed to the broad coalition and international coalition of partners that he says the U.S. has built in the Gulf. I asked, are you working on a new nuclear deal? Is there something on the horizon that may constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions going forward? And we talked about that a little bit. And I will let you hear his answer in full to that tonight. We've got a lot more of this interview coming on All Things Considered.

MARTIN: Good tease. So tune in this afternoon to All Things Considered for that full interview between Mary Louise Kelly and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mary Louise, thank you so much.

KELLY: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.