Nancy Amons, a longtime investigative reporter at Nashville’s WSMV, had just seven minutes to interview Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while he was in town Friday to speak to a group about religious freedom. So Amons didn’t waste any time, telling the secretary that she was going to “start right away with the tough stuff.”
Then, in an exchange that has been described as “gutsy,” “relentless” and “a master class in journalism,” Amons pressed Pompeo on the latest news in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. She questioned him about the resignation of one of his senior advisers and the ouster of a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She asked three times whether he met with Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani while in Warsaw, and he refused to say.
Undeterred, Amons inquired about text messages showing that U.S. diplomats believed a relationship between Trump and Ukraine’s president was contingent upon the country investigating his political rivals. That’s when Pompeo lost his cool.
“You’ve got your facts wrong,” he told Amons, shaking his head. “It sounds like you’re working, at least in part, for the Democratic National Committee.”
Pompeo was in Nashville to speak at a conference held by the American Association of Christian Counselors. As former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before Congress that she was ousted because of pressure from Trump, the secretary of state joked to the group that it was “a heck of a day not to be in Washington.”
While in Tennessee, Pompeo sat for interviews with local reporters, including Amons, who has worked for WSMV for more than three decades and produced investigations that have led to federal indictments and state probes. Some speculated that Pompeo was expecting easy questions when he sat down with her.
The conversation between the two started off amicably, as Amons joked that Pompeo had probably done a few thousand interviews and could clip on his own microphone. She started the interview by welcoming him to Nashville; he smiled while telling her it was good to be there.
Then Amons was ready to move on from the pleasantries. Holding a stack of notes, she launched into a line of questioning about the resignation of senior Pompeo adviser Michael McKinley.
“He’s adding his voice to a number of career diplomats who’ve expressed frustration over what they see as your failure to stand up for government servants — for servants like Ambassador Yovanovitch who have been caught up in the Ukraine controversy,” Amons said. “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?
“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,” Pompeo responded. “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.”
Moments later, when Amons pointed out that he and Giuliani were in Warsaw at the same time, and asked whether they met, Pompeo said, “I don’t talk about who I meet with.”
“I went to Warsaw for a particular purpose,” he continued. “It was an important mission. We brought together people all across the world to take down the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on on that mission.”
“So you’re not going to say whether you met with him?” Amons asked.
“When I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus,” Pompeo said. “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, and we’re making real progress.”
“It sounds like you’re not going to say,” Amons told him.
Pompeo repeated the same line: “When I was in Warsaw, we were working diligently to accomplish the mission to take down the terror regime that’s inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what I worked on. It was the only thing that I engaged in while I was there.”
At that point, Amons asked about the text messages of the U.S. diplomats, and Pompeo made the jab that she worked for the DNC. He told her that her phrasing “does a real disservice to the employees and the team at the United States Department of State,” and then he said that “in Ukraine, the threat from Russia is real and this administration, unlike the previous one, is taking those responsibilities very seriously.”
Amons wrapped up the interview by giving Pompeo a chance to talk about the reason he came to Nashville. Then she told him that she was out of time. He thanked her and quickly left — this time without the banter that had started the meeting.
“I think he liked me less at the end,” Amons wrote on Twitter.