Home/Daniel Larison/Pompeo Crumbles Under Pressure

Pompeo Crumbles Under Pressure

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a press conference with U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Mike Pompeo has proven to be a blowhard and a bully in his role as Secretary of State, and nothing seems to bother him more than challenging questions from professional journalists. All of those flaws and more were on display during and after his interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly today. After abruptly ending the interview when pressed on his failure to defend members of the Foreign Service, Pompeo then threw a fit and berated the reporter who asked him the questions:

Immediately after the questions on Ukraine, the interview concluded. Pompeo stood, leaned in and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.

A few moments later, an aide asked Kelly to follow her into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department without a recorder. The aide did not say the ensuing exchange would be off the record.

Inside the room, Pompeo shouted his displeasure at being questioned about Ukraine. He used repeated expletives, according to Kelly, and asked, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” He then said, “People will hear about this.”

People are certainly hearing about it, and their unanimous judgment is that it confirms Pompeo’s reputation as an obnoxious, thin-skinned excuse for a Secretary of State. Kelly’s questions were all reasonable and fair, but Pompeo is not used to being pressed so hard to give real answers. We have seen his short temper and condescension before when other journalists have asked him tough questions, and he seems particularly annoyed when the journalists calling him out are women. Pompeo probably has the worst working relationship with the press of any Secretary of State in decades, and this episode will make it worse.

When Pompeo realized he wouldn’t be able to get away with his standard set of vacuous talking points and lies, he ended the conversation. The entire interview is worth reading to appreciate how poorly Pompeo performs when he is forced to explain how failing administration policies are “working.” When pressed on his untrue claims that “maximum pressure” on Iran is “working,” all that he could do was repeat himself robotically:

QUESTION: My question, again: How do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll stop them.

QUESTION: How?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll stop them.

QUESTION: Sanctions?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll stop them.

Kelly refused to accept pat, meaningless responses, and she kept insisting that Pompeo provide something, anything, to back up his assertions. This is how administration officials should always be interviewed, and it is no surprise that the Secretary of State couldn’t handle being challenged to back up his claims. The questions wouldn’t have been that hard to answer if Pompeo were willing to be honest or the least bit humble, but that isn’t how he operates. He sees every interview as an opportunity to snow the interviewer under with nonsense and to score points with the president, and giving honest answers would get in the way of both.

The section at the end concerned Pompeo’s failure to stand up for State Department officials, especially Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine. Since Pompeo’s support for these officials has been abysmal, there was nothing substantive that he could say about it and tried to filibuster his way out of it. To her credit, Kelly was persistent in trying to pin him down and make him address the issue. He had every chance to explain himself, but instead he fell back on defensive denials that persuade no one:

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

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

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

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve said all I’m going to say today. Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so; I appreciate that.

Pompeo could have defended Yovanovitch and other officials that have come under attack, but to do that would be to risk Trump’s ire and it would require him to show the slightest bit of courage. In the end, his “swagger” is all talk and his rhetoric about supporting his “team” at State is meaningless. Pompeo made a fool of himself in this interview, and it is perfectly in keeping with his angry, brittle personality that he took out his frustrations by yelling at the reporter who exposed him as the vacuous blowhard that he is.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles