Washington Post: Pompeo 'gaslighting' NPR reporter

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Former Laura Bush staffer decries Taliban's treatment of women amid peace deal Bipartisan Senate resolution would urge UN to renew Iran arms embargo, travel restrictions MORE is "gaslighting" an NPR reporter following a heated exchange between the two, wrote Washington Post journalist Aaron Blake.

NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly reportedly asked Pompeo in an interview why he chose not to defend former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchHouse panel says key witness isn't cooperating in probe into Yovanovitch surveillance President Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks Former US ambassador Yovanovitch lands a book deal: report MORE after she faced attacks from the president. Pompeo on Saturday claimed Kelly's characterization of the exchange was false and that the conversation was meant to be off the record.

"NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record," Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department.

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The broadside came a day after Kelly offered details about a clash with the secretary of State following the conclusion of his interview, saying Pompeo forcefully asked her if Americans care about Ukraine and if she could locate the former Soviet country on a map.

"He asked, 'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?' He used the F-word in that sentence and many others," Kelly told "All Things Considered" co-host Ari Shapiro on Friday.

"He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away," she added. "He said, 'People will hear about this.'"

In his statement Saturday, Pompeo also said that "it is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine," implying that Kelly pointed to the South Asian country instead of Ukraine.

Blake wrote in an analysis posted Saturday afternoon that it was particularly remarkable that Pompeo implied that Kelly didn’t know where Ukraine is on a map. 

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“Here’s why there is absolutely no way that happened,” Blake wrote, going on to explain that a journalist of Kelly’s pedigree must certainly know the difference between Eastern Europe and South Asia on a map. Blake went on to defend Kelly, pointing out that she has reported internationally and holds a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University.

"Pompeo could have mentioned a country that is actually near Ukraine, and it still wouldn’t have been believable given Kelly’s background," he wrote. "Mentioning a country in South Asia is patently ridiculous. Indeed, the mere fact that he challenged Kelly on the subject in the first place suggests he doesn’t really know who he was dealing with."

Blake said Pompeo’s response "exemplifies gaslighting" and illustrates the secretary of State’s history of protecting the president under widespread criticism of his foreign policy decisions and temperament. Those actions may cost public trust in the State Department, he added. 

“The problem with Pompeo’s willingness to play ball with Trump, though, is the potential loss of credibility,” Blake wrote. “This is a prime example of that risk.”

Tal Axelrod contributed.

Updated: 2:54 p.m.