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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters at the White House, Jan. 10, 2019. (AP/ Evan Vucci) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters at the White House, Jan. 10, 2019. (AP/ Evan Vucci)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters at the White House, Jan. 10, 2019. (AP/ Evan Vucci)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde January 29, 2020

No evidence that Mike Pompeo has publicly defended Marie Yovanovitch

If Your Time is short

  • A review of media interviews, statements, and tweets does not back his claim.
  • He broadly spoke about defending all State Department employees without defending anyone in particular.
  • The most specific thing he said was that Yovanovitch was "a foreign service officer in good standing," which defines her status as an employee.

An interview between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly ended shortly after she asked him about Ukraine and his treatment of Marie Yovanovitch after her removal as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

"Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?" Kelly asked him.

Pompeo said he had "defended every State Department official."

"Sir, respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?" Kelly asked.

"I've defended every single person on this team," Pompeo said Jan. 24. "I've done what's right for every single person on this team."

Kelly asked him to point to remarks where he’d defended Yovanovitch. Pompeo did not do that.

Yovanovitch was the point person for American anti-corruption policy in Ukraine and later became the target of smears by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Trump also disparaged her foreign service history. We rated Trump’s inaccurate claims about her as Pants on Fire.

RELATED: Who is Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine removed by Trump?

We wanted to know if Pompeo had defended Yovanovitch. So we reviewed more than 120 State Department transcripts of interviews Pompeo had with online news agencies, TV, radio, and newspaper reporters since May 2019, the month that Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Ukraine.

We found no record of Pompeo publicly defending Yovanovitch. When asked, he broadly spoke about defending all State Department employees without defending anyone in particular.

We found no indication of Pompeo defending her to the press at conferences or while traveling to events. The Twitter accounts for Pompeo, the State Department, and the department’s press secretary also don’t show a defense of Yovanovitch.

The State Department did not respond to our queries asking for evidence for Pompeo’s claim.

Here are some typical interviews where Pompeo was directly asked about Yovanovitch and his lack of a public defense for the former ambassador.

Oct. 20 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week

In an extensive back-and-forth, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Pompeo whether he was aware of Giuliani’s push to get rid of Yovanovitch.

Pompeo said "she's a foreign service officer in good standing," that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, and it’s in everyone’s best interest for ambassadors to leave their post if the president has lost confidence in them.

"I'm not going to get into personnel matters inside the State Department. I’ve not done it and I’m not going to do it for you here this morning," Pompeo said.

Stephanopoulos said many foreign service professionals believe Pompeo had a duty to speak up for her and protect her in that position.

"George, in good time all of the facts surrounding each of these incidents will become clear. But it's not appropriate for me to comment on all of the things that happen inside of personnel decisions," Pompeo said. "None of our foreign service officers would welcome the Secretary of State talking about why someone stayed, why someone was removed, why someone was transferred. It wouldn’t be appropriate."

Oct. 11 interviews with Tennessee media

Nancy Amons of WSMV in Nashville told Pompeo that career diplomats had publicly expressed frustration over what they saw as Pompeo’s failure to stand up for government employees.

"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?" Amons asked.

"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 said. He went on to say he was proud of the work done by the State Department.

"I’ve supported every mission that the State Department’s been engaged in and will continue to do that," Pompeo replied.

Jason Lamb of WTVF in Nashville also interviewed Pompeo that day. Lamb told Pompeo that Democrats in a letter had accused him of remaining silent regarding Yovanovitch.

"The letter says it’s incumbent on you not to further the president’s damaging and unfounded attacks, but to send a simple message to everyone who works at the Department of State: you have their backs," Lamb said. "What is your message to everyone at the Department of State?"

"I have their backs," Pompeo said, without saying anything specific about Yovanovitch.

Nov. 18 press briefing

On Nov. 18 at a State Department press briefing, Pompeo was asked why he had not made statements of support for employees testifying in the impeachment inquiry.

"I’m not going to get into the issues surrounding the Democrat impeachment inquiry. I’m just not going to do it today," Pompeo said, according to a State Department transcript.

A reporter asked again: "But no defense of your employees?"

"I always defend State Department employees," Pompeo said. "It’s the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world. Very proud of the team."

New York Times article on John Bolton’s book

The New York Times on Jan. 26 reported about an unpublished manuscript for a forthcoming book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The New York Times said Bolton in his book wrote that Pompeo acknowledged privately to him that there was no basis to Giuliani’s claims that Yovanovitch was corrupt and that he believed Giuliani may have been acting on behalf of other clients.

PolitiFact is unable to verify whether that private conversation took place and we’ve seen no public confirmation from Pompeo about Bolton’s manuscript.

Our ruling

When asked if he’s defended former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Pompeo said, "I've defended every single person on this team."

The public record does not back his claim. We reviewed Pompeo’s media interviews, remarks to the press, and Twitter feed. The most specific thing he said was that Yovanovitch was "a foreign service officer in good standing," which defines her status as an employee. We found no instances of him defending Yovanovitch’s performance or reputation, especially against allegations made by Trump and his allies.

The State Department did not provide material to back Pompeo’s claim.

We rate Pompeo’s claim False.

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More by Miriam Valverde

No evidence that Mike Pompeo has publicly defended Marie Yovanovitch

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