Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to be shocked—and angered—on Friday, after a Nashville journalist used her short time with him as an opportunity to ask hard questions. Nancy Amons, an investigative journalist for the region’s NBC affiliate with decades of experience, had just seven minutes with Pompeo, who was in Music City, U.S.A. to give a speech to Christians.
Unfortunately for Pompeo, she used every minute of that to challenge him. Amons didn’t ask him about barbecue or country music—two things Nashville is indeed famous for. Instead, she focused on Pompeo’s alleged meeting with Giuliani, as well as the days-old decision to pull out of Syria, which almost immediately had a disastrous ripple effect upon the region’s Kurds … renewed suffering that has only just begun.
Watching the interview, it makes you wonder if Pompeo had any idea that Nashville is also widely known as “Little Kurdistan,” and boasts the largest population of Kurds in the country. The entire nation deserves answers on Donald Trump’s cruel choice, but Nashville is home to roughly 15,000 Kurds who demand it, many of whom attended a protest rally Friday evening.
Though most Nashville Kurds hail from the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, (Mustafa Elmas, who works on artificial intelligence for a local health care company), comes from Turkey. He still has family near the Turkish-Syrian border.
“They are very concerned,” Elmas says. “They don’t know what’s going to happen. What did we do to deserve this? More than 11,000 Kurdish women and men sacrificed their lives in order to protect this world, in order to make sure it’s a peaceful world.”
Let’s roll the tape. At just eight minutes and change from Pompeo’s entrance to exit, it’s worth your time to watch Pompeo’s face quite literally transform as his anger takes over.
Of course, things start off nice enough. Pompeo smiles as he enters with his team and shakes Amons’ hand. He even introduces himself as “Mike” to her “Nancy,” and acknowledges the camera op. Amons notes her limited time slot and vows to dig right in—and she does, with a question about Thursday’s resignation of Pompeo’s senior adviser, P. Michael McKinley. Pompeo immediately bristles, addressing Amons by “ma’am” rather than her first name, and talking down to her with reproach as he meanders through a non-answer likely intended to take up as much of those seven minutes as possible.
NANCY AMONS: This is on Michael McKinley first. Big announcement yesterday, one of your most trusted senior advisers resigned. He’s adding his voice to a number of career diplomats who have expressed frustration over what they see as your failure to stand up for government servants, and for servants like Ambassador (Marie) Yovanovitch, caught up in the Ukraine controversy. Did you do enough to defend the ambassador, privately and publicly, against the smear campaign that was being waged against her? And will you speak to that now?
MIKE POMPEO: Well, ma’am, you have some of your facts wrong, so you should be careful about things you assert as facts before you state them. But more importantly, I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done, along with my team—other senior leaders at the State Department—to make sure that this institution was functional, preserved, and delivering on behalf of America. And I think, I think the results that we’ve achieved—I’ve been the Secretary of State for now about a year and a half—I think the results that we achieved stand on their own. And the career people who work at the State Department, the civil servants who work at the State Department, the political people who work at the State Department, are all part of one team focused on a singular mission: to deliver on behalf of America. And I think we have done that, are doing it today, and we’ll continue to do it during my time in leadership.
With Pompeo’s rambling strategy of avoidance now revealed, Amons jumps in before he can think of more groups of people who work at State to mention. Pompeo digs his loafers in deeper, however, giving the award-winning journalist a hasty lecture on what’s “appropriate,” punctuated by another “ma’am,” this one a bit more powerful.
AMONS: Can you speak to Michael McKinley’s resignation?
POMPEO: I don’t talk about personnel matters.
AMONS: Did he speak to you personally about it as he resigned?
POMPEO: I don’t talk about personnel matters. It wouldn’t be appropriate, ma’am, to do that.
He launches into another lengthy list of the different sort of employees he won’t talk about before Amon tries a different angle, which Pompeo firmly rejects.
AMONS: Did you support the ambassador being recalled months before her tenure was up?
POMPEO: I have supported every mission that the State Department has been engaged in and will continue to do that.
At this point, it is crystal clear that Pompeo isn’t going to answer hard questions, but Amons doesn’t relent. After a nod to Nashville’s Kurdish residents, she attempts to get Pompeo to acknowledge the impact of Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
AMONS: A senior State Department official told reporters yesterday that among the deepest concerns about Turkey’s incursion is the indiscriminate firing on civilians and even ethnic cleansing. Nashville has a large Kurdish population—what do you say to the worried families here?
POMPEO: So, the United States, under President Trump, did enormous work to support the Kurds in taking down the Caliphate in predominantly Kurdish regions of Syria. ISIS had infected the region—you remember them, people in cages, heads being cut off—and you watched, under President Trump’s leadership, the support that we provided to the Kurdish people there in the region to take down the caliphate inside of northeast Syria, where the majority of these Kurdish people live. So I’m very proud of the work we’ve done in support of the Kurds. We’re working diligently, even as I sit here today, our team is working diligently on the ground, to convince President Erdoğan it’s not in anyone’s best interest to engage in behavior that puts civilians at risk inside of Syria.
AMONS: And for the Kurds who are here in Nashville, do you see why they’re still worried?
POMPEO: We’ve been incredibly supportive and we will continue to support them. You have to remember, and I’m sure the people in this region would know, the Kurds exist not only in Syria, they exist in many places, and the United States has been and will continue to be incredibly supportive, to protect them. We’ve made a real centerpiece of the State Department’s work, during my time, of protecting people all around the world. Marginalized communities, religious minorities, religious freedom, all the things that I know that the Kurdish people that live right here in this region care so deeply about. We’ll continue to do that.
The stonewall now has its foundation, folks. With just a couple minutes left on the clock, Amons gives Pompeo a polite “Thank you” and checks her notes … before asking the question that made Pompeo so angry, his face froze as the redness of rage creeped in, his eyes flaring just enough to make known his utter disgust that this woman didn’t ask him if he’s ever been to Dollywood.
AMONS: In mid-February, you were in Warsaw, and so was Rudy Giuliani. During your time there, did you meet with Giuliani?
POMPEO: You know, I don’t talk about who I meet with. I went to Warsaw for a particular purpose. It was an important mission. We brought together people all across the world to take down the world’s largest state-sponsored terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on on that mission.
If we can praise Pompeo for nothing else—and it’s looking like we can’t—this is a solid self-serving dodge. Amons called him out for it immediately, which, unfortunately, triggered the repetition robot that lives inside Pompeo.
AMONS: So you’re not going to say whether or not you met with him?
POMPEO: So when I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus. My focus was singularly on the work that we have done, effective work, to recover from what the Obama administration has done, which is to underwrite the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror. We’ve stopped that, we’re making real progress.
AMONS: It sounds like you’re not going to say?
POMPEO: When I was in Warsaw, we were working diligently to accomplish the mission to take down the terror regime that is inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on, that’s the only thing that I engaged in while I was there.
Amons had under two minutes left with Pompeo at this point, so she went for it, asking the angry Secretary of State about his subordinates’ telling Ukrainian officials that they must investigate Joe Biden if they wanted to get on Trump’s good side.
Pompeo lost what little illusion of professionalism he had left at that moment, and unabashedly sought to discredit Amons, accusing her of being a Democratic Party operative.
After that, Pompeo feigned offense, slid in another Obama slight, and deflected—until, quite literally, after one last obligatory question, Amons’ time with the Trump appointee was up.
AMONS: Text messages show that diplomats under your authority told the Ukrainians that a good relationship with President Trump was only possible if they investigated his political opponent and theories about what happened in 2016. Were you aware that this was happening?
POMPEO (hate chuckling): Again, you’ve got your facts wrong. Sounds like you’re working, at least in part, for the Democratic National Committee when you phrase a predicate of a question in that way. It’s unfortunate, it does a real disservice to the employees and the team at the United States Department of State. Our team was incredibly focused; we wanted a good relationship with Ukraine. We wanted it before the election, when Porshenko was in charge, and we want it now, with Mr. Zelensky. We have an important set of foreign policy real interests in Ukraine; the threat from Russia is real, and this administration, unlike the previous one, has taken those responsibilities very seriously. Part of that, an incredibly important part of that, is making sure that corruption is weeded out at every level inside of Ukraine. And our team, for the entire time I’ve been the Secretary of State, has been working on that project.
AMONS: Would you like to wrap it up by saying why you’re here?
POMPEO: Sure. I came here today to talk to a group of people who care deeply about religious freedom. It’s something that President Trump has directed our State Department to focus on, whether that’s the Uyghurs—Muslims in China who are being held in camps in western Xinjiang Province in China, or religious minorities, whether they be Christian or Muslim or B’hai throughout the Middle East that aren’t being treated appropriately. I came here today to talk about this incredibly important task that the State Department has in front of it.
AMONS: My time is up.
Pompeo and his team couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
It’s worth noting that Pompeo’s “religious freedom” speech to Nashville Christians also dodged the impeachment inquiry and Syria, so at least he’s consistent. Also of significance? The soundbite that got that crowd most excited.
The biggest applause from the speech, however, came after Pompeo vowed his department would never sign an agreement with an international organization that declared abortion as a human right.
That doesn’t sound like freedom for … well, pretty much anyone who can get pregnant.