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Pompeo on clash with NPR reporter: 'I hope she finds peace'

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoUS intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing Golden statue of Trump at CPAC ridiculed online Five things to watch at CPAC MORE said Wednesday that he hoped an NPR reporter he criticized during a private meeting found "peace."

Pompeo's remarks, delivered to reporters as he traveled to Europe, come after the NPR reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, said the secretary of State laced into her during a private meeting after an interview. Kelly said Pompeo, angry she had asked questions in the interview about Ukraine, gave her an unmarked map and asked her to point to where Ukraine was located.

Kelly, a host of "All Things Considered," added that Pompeo had asked her, "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" 

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Following the report, Pompeo accused Kelly of lying about the terms for the interview and alleged that she had disclosed aspects of their discussion that were meant to be off the record. In a statement, he claimed that their interaction showed "how unhinged the media" had become. 

Asked about the encounter, Pompeo said that he had agreed to conduct an interview with Kelly after inviting her to the State Department for a conversation in December. He noted that there was "a lot of history" between himself, NPR and Iran and that he hoped to "fix" it by talking with Kelly. 

"She asked me if I’d give her the favor of granting her an interview. I said, 'Sure, there’s a lot of history to fix. Let’s talk about Iran," Pompeo said, referencing a 2015 grant from the Ploughshares Fund that supported NPR's national security reporting. 

The Ploughshares Fund was identified as a key surrogate in the Obama administration's push for the Iran nuclear deal, which presented the perception of a conflict of interest for NPR. Pompeo, then a GOP congressman and opponent of the deal, claimed at the time that NPR had canceled an interview with him on the topic.

The outlet confirmed that it had canceled the interview but noted it had interview more than a dozen lawmakers opposing the deal. 

"I took a leap of faith. ... Then we set up an interview. I hope she finds peace," Pompeo added. 

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Kelly has said that she confirmed with Pompeo's staff that she would ask about Ukraine in addition to Iran during their discussion. 

Pompeo went on to say that he's "sure" he'll grant another interview to NPR in the future, adding that he hopes they'd conduct the interview in an "objective" fashion. 

"This is a state-funded entity. I hope that they’ll be objective," he said. "You can go look at the interview and judge for yourself whether you think that was a straight, down-the-middle interview or not, looking to really talk about the facts that the American people care about and the things they really value. And of course, the American people care about the people of Ukraine."

NPR did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. 

The State Department earlier this week removed NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen from the press pool traveling with Pompeo on his trip to Europe and Central Asia. NPR executives on Tuesday sent a letter to Pompeo demanding a "justification" for the decision, as well as any documents concerning the move. 

“We can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio as a result of this exchange,” Shaun Tandon, president of the State Department Correspondents' Association, said in the statement.

Kelly has also pushed back on Pompeo's criticism of the media, writing in a New York Times op-ed that "journalists don’t sit down with senior government officials in the service of scoring political points."

"We do it in the service of asking tough questions, on behalf of our fellow citizens. And then sharing the answers — or lack thereof — with the world," she said.