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NPR Reporter Barred From Pompeo’s Ukraine Trip After Contentious Interview

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The U.S. State Department didn’t include a reporter from National Public Radio (NPR) in the press pool for Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo’s upcoming trip to Ukraine and four other countries.

NPR and the State Department Correspondents’ Association (SDCA), which represents reporters covering the State Department, said on January 27 that reporter Michele Kelemen was removed from the travelling pool.

The removal can be seen only as retaliation for her colleague’s interview with Pompeo, who angrily responded to NPR journalist Mary Louise Kelly’s questions about Ukraine days earlier, the SDCA said.

“The State Department press corps has a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association,” Shaun Tandon, the head of the association, said in a statement.

The State Department didn’t immediately address the exclusion of the NPR reporter.

Kelly interviewed Pompeo on January 24.

She said the secretary of state got angry and ended the interview when he was asked questions about defending U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was fired by President Donald Trump last year.

According to Kelly, she was then asked to go into Pompeo's private living room to continue the conversation. Kelly said that Pompeo yelled and used foul language as he claimed that most Americans do not know where Ukraine is located.

Kelly said Pompeo also asked her: “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?”

In a subsequent statement, Pompeo accused the reporter of lying when setting up the interview and in agreeing to conduct the post-interview conversation off the record.

NPR issued a response to Pompeo's statement, calling Kelly a reporter with "utmost integrity" and said it stood behind her report.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also issued a statement criticizing Pompeo, saying his reaction was another sign of the Trump administration's "hostility" toward the press.

Trump allies accused Yovanovitch of impeding an investigation into the president's political rival's work in Ukraine. During a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in July, Trump called Yovanovitch "bad news."

Pompeo, Yovanovitch's boss, has avoided answering questions about why he did not publicly defend her reputation.

The U.S. Senate is currently conducting a trial after the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on two charges -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Both charges -- or articles of impeachment -- are linked to the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Pompeo’s foreign trip is scheduled to start on January 29.

It includes stops in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, three countries where there are media freedom concerns.

The barred reporter, Kelemen, has covered the State Department for two decades and said she was not given a reason for being removed from the travel pool.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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