Delta fined $50K for discriminatory removal of three Muslim passengers

2 0 26 Jan 2020

Delta Air Lines has been fined $50,000 for “discriminatory conduct” in the removal of three Muslim passengers from two flights in 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.

A consent order released by the Transportation Department on Friday says Delta violated the law “when it removed and denied re-boarding” to the Muslim passengers.

The order also requires Delta to provide cultural-sensitivity training to all cabin crew members and customer service staff involved in both cases.

The airline for its part said it could have handled both incidents better but disagreed that its conduct was discriminatory.

The first incident occurred on July 26, 2016, when a Muslim married couple boarded a flight in Paris, France to return to their home in Cincinnati, Ohio. The wife “was wearing a head scarf” at the time.

A fellow passenger told a flight attendant the couple made her “very uncomfortable and nervous” because she saw the husband insert “something plastic into his watch” and do “something with it.” The passenger described the couple, who are U.S. citizens, as “fidgety, nervous, and sweating,” according to the consent order.

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Flight attendants also told the plane’s captain they saw the husband “texting on his cell phone using the word ‘Allah’ several times” and raised concerns over him not smiling after their making eye contact with him. The captain then asked security officers to remove the passengers from the plane for additional vetting, the Transportation Department said.

The captain later refused to let the couple re-board the plane, after they were interviewed and cleared, because the flight attendants were “uncomfortable” having the couple on the flight, the order said.

If it weren’t for the couple’s “perceived religion, Delta would not have removed or denied them re-boarding,” the order said.

The second incident occurred five days later on July 31, 2016, when a Muslim man boarded a flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to New York City.

Passengers at the departing gate told Delta’s flight crew they observed the man making “significant eye contact” and later speaking with a person of similar ethnicity in the gate area. The person he spoke to didn’t board the plane and appeared to have given him a small package, according to the Transportation Department’s investigation.

At the captain’s request the flight’s First Officer walked through the cabin but “observed nothing remarkable” about the passenger. Delta Corporate Security also informed the captain that the man’s record showed “no red flags.”

The captain proceeded to begin departure but later “returned to the gate” because “the flight attendants expressed, without any intervening incident, that they remained uncomfortable,” according to the order.

The Transportation Department found the man was not subjected to additional security screening prior to being relocated on another flight, leading the agency to conclude that his removal “was discriminatory.”

Delta disagrees with the federal department’s characterization of their actions as “discriminatory.”

The airline told NBC News in a statement that its “best customer service was not reflected” in how the incidents were handled, but “we disagree with the Department of Transportation’s contention that Delta engaged in discriminatory conduct.”

Delta said it has “worked to improve our investigative process since these incidents and we have supporting programs, policies, training and procedures that back up our commitments in this area.” 

The company also said in a statement in the consent order, that it is “a global airline that serves customers of all races, ethnicities, and religious affiliations … Delta stands by its record as an airline where all are welcome, and unlawful discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.”

Florida man accused of pointing lasers at landing planes, injuring a pilot

2 0 26 Jan 2020

A man in Florida is facing multiple charges after allegedly pointing a laser at planes trying to land at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, injuring a pilot.

Charlie James Chapman Jr.Manatee Sheriff

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said Charlie Chapman Jr., 41, was arrested on Wednesday after he was caught on camera aiming a laser pointer toward planes four times. When a sheriff’s helicopter tried to locate Chapman, he pointed a laser at them.

When authorities made contact with Chapman, “he grabbed a hammer and made a striking motion towards the deputies,” prompting officers to deploy a taser on him. Chapman was taken to a hospital. He was later released and taken to jail, the sheriff’s office said.

Officers said they found a laser pointer in Chapman’s right pants pocket when they arrested him.

One pilot said the laser hit him directly in the eyes, causing temporary blindness and lingering blurred vision, authorities said.

Chapman is charged with aggravated assault on an officer, pointing a laser at a pilot with injury, pointing a laser at a pilot without injury and resisting without violence, according to the sheriff’s office.

Trump appears on audio to demand Yovanovitchs ouster without knowing her name

3 0 26 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appears to have asked donors for their assessment of how long Ukraine could survive against Russia and called for ousting the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine without even knowing her name, according to a recording obtained Saturday by NBC News.

The recording is from an April 2018 dinner attended by indicted Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, according to Parnas’ attorney. NBC News has not confirmed that the voices on the tape are of Trump, Parnas and Fruman, but Trump can be seen in early parts of the video. Neither he nor the White House have disputed that the recording is authentic.

Trump, who has asserted publicly he doesn’t know Parnas and Fruman, appears to have spoken at length about Ukraine and Russia with them during the dinner, along with other topics, including cannabis legalization and their natural gas venture.

In the recording, a voice that appears to be Parnas’ tells Trump during a conversation on Ukraine that “where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador, she’s still left over from the Clinton administration.” He says the ambassador has been” basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.'”

Trump asks for the ambassador’s name, but both Parnas and another person at the table say they don’t have her name at the front of their memory. Trump says to “get rid of her.”

“Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK?” Trump appears to say.

“Excellent,” another unidentified voice responds.

Trump ultimately did fire Yovanovtich but not until more than a year later in 2019. It’s unclear what accounted for the delay, but Parnas has said in interviews that Trump tried to fire her multiple times, only to be stymied by his own staff.

In an earlier conversation about Europe, Parnas tells Trump that Ukraine is “just waiting for your support a little bit.”

“How long would they last in a fight with Russia?” Trump asks.

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“I don’t think very long. Without us not very long,” Parnas replies.

“Without us,” Trump echoes.

Trump’s apparent comments on the tape are a new indication that as early as March 2018, Trump was seeking insight into how Ukraine would fare without U.S. support, which Democrats allege he later leveraged to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents. It also illustrates how quick he was to seek the dismissal of an ambassador he was told was denigrating him even before knowing basic facts such as her name.

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The recording also offers a window into Trump’s private interactions with high-dollar donors, who seem to use the dinner as an opportunity to push the president on their own priorities while lavishing praise on Trump. The president has held countless intimate donor events such as this one since becoming president, as did presidents of both parties before him.

Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Parnas, said in a statement that the tape was being released “to provide clarity to the American people and the Senate as to the need to conduct a fair trial, with witnesses and evidence.”

The recording was made on a cellphone and includes video at the beginning that appears to show Trump and a table set for a fancy dinner. The phone is then placed on the table during the dinner facing up, rendering the speakers at the dinner out of frame. It does not appear that Trump knows he is being recorded, and in an early part of the video, a staffer tells the person recording that some attendees at the dinner might not want their picture taken.

“Every president in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his Administration,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in response to the video.

Trump, in comments on Fox News on Friday night after the first clips of the recording emerged, said he was “not a fan” of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and believed she was unpopular in Ukraine. But he said he wouldn’t have directed Parnas to fire her, instead saying, “I probably would’ve told Rudy, or somebody.”

Asked if it was possible he was at the dinner with Parnas, Trump replied, “Sure.”

“But you have to understand, I see thousands of people,” Trump said. “I just left Florida where I was shaking hands, taking pictures with hundreds and hundreds of people in one night.”

In the recording, Trump also appears to question U.S. involvement in South Korea, asking why the United States “ended up in a Korean War” and suggesting the U.S. has unfairly carried the burden of keeping peace between North and South.

He also says he wrote a letter of recommendation to South Korea’s president on behalf of one of the donors at the dinner. Trump says South Korea’s president confirmed to Trump that he received the letter and adds, “so they must be treating you pretty good.”

In a bizarre moment near the end of the dinner, Parnas and Fruman compare Trump to the messiah. Parnas tells him: “It’s like messiah is the person that’s come to save the whole world. So it’s like you’re the savior of (inaudible).”

The two present to him a gift that they say shows how Trump’s name adds up to the same numbers as the Jewish messiah, a reference to the Jewish mystical practice of Gematria. In Gematria, every Hebrew letter is assigned a numerical value, and the sums of those values are then compared to numerical values of other words or phrases to identify hidden meanings or connections.

“The messiah comes out to 424. Your name, your name, it adds up to his name. So it’s 424, 424,” Parnas says.

Fruman adds: “So all Jew people of Ukraine, they are praying for you.” Another unidentified voice tells Trump to “talk to Jared, he’ll explain it to you” — a reference to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is an observant Jew.

In other parts of the video:

  • An unidentified donor asks Trump to consider Songdo, South Korea, for his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Songdo is a “smart city” in South Korea where the donor says his family owns a majority stake. Trump responds by saying they are very far along in selecting a location for the summit, which was ultimately held in Singapore, but adds: “You know that Kim Jong Un is a great golfer.”
  • Parnas also tries to pitch Trump on creating a bipartisan commission to study cannabis banking and whether to allow banking for marijuana proceeds in states that have legalized cannabis. Parnas says he’s not in the business himself but that his friends are. As NBC News has reported, Parnas and Fruman ultimately did try to enter the cannabis business. Trump seemed skeptical in the dinner, questioning whether marijuana legalization is a good idea.

Two people found dead in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

9 0 26 Jan 2020

Two people were found dead in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park by rangers searching for a person reported to be suicidal.

The park, which is about 70 miles northwest of downtown Denver, received a report Friday afternoon that a person who was suicidal might be in the park, according to a park press release.

That individual’s vehicle was found near Upper Beaver Meadows Road. Later, the person rangers were searching for along with a second individual were found dead, the park said.

Authorities have not released their identities, and a coroner will conduct an autopsy to determine their causes of death.

The Larimer County Coroner’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

Salma Hayek apologizes for promoting American Dirt without reading the book

9 0 25 Jan 2020

Mexican actress Salma Hayek is apologizing for promoting and praising “American Dirt,” a novel by author Jeanine Cummins that has sparked debate and criticism over its portrayal of immigrants.

“American Dirt” tells the story of a middle-class Mexican bookstore owner who flees to the U.S.-Mexico border with her 8-year-old son after her journalist husband and other family members are killed by a ruthless drug cartel.

The highly publicized book was praised by high-profile authors such as Stephen King and Ann Patchett and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. On Saturday, it ranked No. 4 on’s bestseller list, The Associated Press reported.

“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins.Flatiron

However, some Latino and Mexican-American critics have slammed “American Dirt” for being a poorly informed narrative about Mexico that reinforces stereotypes.

Hayek said on Instagram she posted a message on Friday after she “got very excited when Oprah shared with me the pick for her book club.”

“In the description of the book I learned that it was the story of a Mexican woman, so I rushed into sharing my excitement with you. I confess, I have not read it and was not aware of any kind of controversy,” Hayek wrote on Instagram. “I apologize for shouting out something without experiencing it or doing my research on it.”

The Instagram post she had previously published, posing with the book and praising Winfrey for “giving a voice to the voiceless & for loving harder in response to hate,” has been deleted, Hayek said.

Sweater stolen from Nazis educates people about Auschwitz death camp

6 0 25 Jan 2020

JERUSALEM — A wool sweater stolen from under the noses of Nazi guards has remained intact for three quarters of a century, a memento of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but one that reminds Mottie Alon that he survived.

Now Alon, 85, hopes it will help to educate future generations about the site where the Nazis killed an estimated 1.1 million people during World War II.

Speaking to NBC News ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he said it was “very important” for young people to “see evidence from Birkenau.”

Alon said he stole the sweater the day before the camp was liberated by Russia’s Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945, even though he had seen one of his friends shot dead for stealing a coat.

“It was terribly cold, I had clothing that was full of holes with short sleeves,” he added. “When the German soldier looked the other way, I saw a sweater. I took it and I was not shot.”

Alon, a victim of Dr. Josef Mengele who has been dubbed the “Angel of Death,” kept the sweater, which he has now donated to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of artifacts connected to that time are housed.

Alon was born Andras Brichta in 1935, along with twin brother, Karoly. He changed his name after moving to Israel at the end of World War II, as did Karoly, who became Yoel.

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Their parents, Margit and Laszlo came from Ujpest — once a village and now a suburb of Hungary’s capital Budapest — which was taken over by German forces in March 1944.

Mottie Alon and his brother Yoel in 1938.

Two months later, the 9-year-old twins were deported to Auschwitz, along with their mother. Laszlo Brichta was not with them as he had been conscripted into the Hungarian army in 1943.

They were among 424,000 Hungarian Jews relocated to the camps in just eight weeks, according to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

To the west of the Polish city of Krakow, Auschwitz was an army barracks before it was converted into a concentration camp to hold Polish political prisoners, shortly after Nazi troops invaded in 1939. Less than a mile away, Birkenau was set up two years later.

Most of the victims were Jews transported from across Europe to be killed in gas chambers. But tens of thousands of others, including Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war were also killed at the site.

Alon said being twins saved him and his brother.

Separated from their mother, they were placed in the hands of Mengele, the SS officer who became notorious for his experiments on humans. Many of his victims died, while others were killed once he had finished with them.

Although some operations were performed on them, they had no lasting effects, Alon said, adding that they were fed a lot better than most other prisoners in order to maintain their physical well-being. He credited this with helping to keep them alive.

Mottie Alon with the sweater. World Holocaust Memorial Remembrance Center

The warmth from the sweater also helped, he said.

After the Germans abandoned Auschwitz, Alon and his brother were able to reunite with their mother, who he said was “very ill.”

She was nonetheless able to build her strength when they returned to Budapest, where they found Laszlo alive. He had escaped the army and had been living in hiding.

The family would later emigrate to Israel, where Alon currently lives.

Michael Tal, the creator and the director of the artifact department at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, said it was “very important” to keep the sweater.

He added it would help to “tell the story to the next generation.”

Henry Austin reported from London.

Arizona man tried using a fake skeleton to drive in HOV lane

12 0 25 Jan 2020

A 62-year-old driver put a disguised fake skeleton in his car’s passenger seat in an effort to use the high-occupancy vehicle lane of an Arizona freeway this week.

But the stunt didn’t work.

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The Arizona Public Safety Department said a trooper pulled over the man on Thursday after noticing the fake skeleton. It was tied to the front seat with a yellow rope and wearing a camouflage bucket hat.

A fake skeleton was found in the passenger seat after a State Trooper stopped a driver in an HOV lane in Phoenix.Arizona Dept. of Public Safety via AP

Troopers shared an image of the odd finding on Twitter, saying, “Think you can use the HOV lane with Skeletor riding shotgun? You’re dead wrong!

Skeletor is a fictional villain, the nemesis of He-Man, in the Masters of the Universe comic series.

The real-life driver in Arizona has been cited for violations of HOV and car window-tint rules, according to the state Public Safety Department.

Every year, approximately 7,000 drivers in Arizona are cited for violating HOV regulations, department spokesman Raúl García told The Associated Press.

Last April, a man was pulled over after driving in the HOV lane with a mannequin wearing a sweatshirt, baseball cap and sunglasses, the AP reported.

Rosie Perez backs up fellow actress Annabella Sciorras testimony in Harvey Weinstein trial

11 0 25 Jan 2020

“Do the Right Thing” actress Rosie Perez testified in a crowded New York courtroom Friday that her friend and fellow performer Annabella Sciorra confided in her in the 1990s that she had been raped by producer Harvey Weinstein.

Perez, who took the stand over the objections of Weinstein’s lawyers, told jurors she called Sciorra sometime in 1993 to set up plans to hang out. Sciorra, according to Perez, broke down crying on the phone.

“She said something bad happened and she said, ‘I think I was raped,’ and her voice started shaking,” Perez testified, adding: “She started crying.”

Perez, 55, told the court that she asked if Sciorra knew who had violently assaulted her in her Manhattan apartment, but Sciorra did not say. But in a phone conversation several months later, Sciorra told Perez that she had been raped by Weinstein, an influential figure in Hollywood.

“Please go to the police,” Perez said she told Sciorra.

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“I can’t,” Sciorra replied, according to Perez. “He’d destroy me.”

In wrenching testimony Thursday, Sciorra said that sometime in 1993 or 1994, Weinstein pushed his way into her Manhattan apartment, restrained her on a bed and forced himself on her. She told jurors that she tried to fight back, punching and kicking him, but “he took my hands and put them over my head.”

Sciorra, best known for her performances in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and HBO’s “The Sopranos,” said Perez was one of the few people she told about the alleged assault before she went public with her claims in an interview with the journalist Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker in 2017.

Weinstein, who has pleaded not guilty in the New York trial, denies any allegations of nonconsensual sex. The ex-producer’s lawyers, who have insisted their client’s sexual encounters were consensual, argued that Perez should be blocked from testifying. But the judge, James Burke, overruled them.

Weinstein, 67, faces charges he raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on another woman in 2006. He also faces a sex crime case in Los Angeles, where he is charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents on two consecutive days in 2013.

In all, more than 80 women have accused the Oscar-winning producer behind “Pulp Fiction” of sexual harassment and assault going back decades.

Sciorra, whose allegations were ruled too old to support criminal charges, is among a group of accusers who are expected to testify during the trial as part of the prosecution’s strategy to demonstrate that Weinstein was a serial sexual abuser who harassed and assaulted many women.

If he is convicted in the case, he could be sentenced to life behind bars.

In questions during cross-examination Thursday, Weinstein defense attorney Donna Rotunno attempted to poke holes in Sciorra’s testimony, pointing out her inability to remember when the alleged rape took place or whom she had been out to dinner with earlier that night.

Weinstein’s lawyers also asked why Sciorra appeared in “Cop Land,” a 1997 crime thriller distributed by his defunct company Miramax, if he had raped her earlier in the decade. Sciorra testified that she was not aware of Weinstein’s involvement in the project until she was on board.

Trumps Senate impeachment trial: What happened on Day 5

11 0 25 Jan 2020

President Donald Trump’s legal team began their defense of the president in Trump-ian fashion on Saturday, charging Democrats were the ones who are trying to interfere in the 2020 election and accusing lead House manager Adam Schiff of being dishonest.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow also gave an astonishing explanation for why his client turned to outsiders for his dealings with Ukraine — he doesn’t trust his own officials.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s abbreviated opening arguments in the president’s Senate trial, which will continue on Monday.

1. Dems are the real danger

The House of Representatives impeached Trump for abuse of power, essentially charging that Trump was trying to force Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 U.S. election. In his opening argument, White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued the Democrats were the ones trying to interfere.

“They’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months, they’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative — take that decision away from the American people, and I don’t think they spent one minute of their 24 hours talking to you about the consequences of that for this country,” Cipollone told the Senate.

Removing the president, he said, would be “an irresponsible abuse of power.”

“Let the people decide,” Cipollone said.

2. Targeting Schiff

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Trump’s team also took aim at Schiff, the California congressman who the president regularly derides as ‘Shifty Schiff’ (and did again on Saturday), telling the senators he’d made several misleading comments.

White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura, a member of Trump’s defense team, focused on Schiff’s summary of the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a hearing in the House, which Schiff said sounded like a “shakedown.”

“That’s fake, that’s not the real call,” Purpura said. “That’s not the evidence here.”

3. Matter of trust

Sekulow said Trump engaged in what Democrats have called “shadow diplomacy” in Ukraine because his faith in U.S. intelligence agencies was badly shaken by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.

“In his summation on Thursday night, Manager Schiff complained that the president chose not to go with the determinations of his intelligence agencies regarding foreign interference and instead decided he would listen to people that he trusted, and he would inquire about the Ukraine issue himself,” Sekulow said. “Mr. Schiff did not like the fact that the president did not apparently blindly trust some of the advice he was being given by the intelligence agencies.”

“The president had reason to be concerned about the information he was being provided. Now we could ignore this. We can make believe this did not happen. But it did,” Sekulow said.

He also accused Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election, something FBI Director Chris Wray has denied.

4. The Bidens

What happened?

After expectations that Trump’s lawyers were going to after Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma — Sekulow said earlier in the day that Democrats had “opened the door” to discussing the Bidens — it didn’t happen. Joe Biden was mentioned only in passing.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be in their crosshairs when the president’s team picks up their arguments again on Monday.

5. Short day

Trump’s team had said they anticipated Saturday’s arguments, which they described as “coming attractions,” would last about three hours but lasted only two.

A senior administration official told NBC News that Trump’s defense won’t take as much time as the House managers did to present their case, and might even wrap up their presentation on Monday. The trial resumes then at 1 p.m. ET.

Pompeo steps up attacks on NPR reporter, but doesnt deny her account

5 0 25 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday attacked an NPR correspondent who reported that he berated and cursed at her following questioning over Ukraine, claiming “she lied to me” and describing her actions as “shameful.”

“NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency.”

Pompeo did not challenge the details of Kelly’s claims about his statements or demeanor during their conversation.

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NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said Pompeo cut off their interview when she pressed him on why he has not defended former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who is at the center of President Donald Trump’s impeachment. During her testimony before House impeachment investigators in November, Yovanovitch said she had felt threatened by Trump and his allies. Trump removed Yovanovitch as ambassador last year.

Kelly said she did not agree to be off the record at any point, and had communicated in advance to Pompeo’s office that she intended to ask him about Iran and Ukraine.

NPR released the full, unedited interview with Pompeo on Friday.

“This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity,” Pompeo said Saturday.

“Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report,” NPR’s Senior Vice President for News Nancy Barnes said Saturday, following Pompeo’s statement.

After Pompeo abruptly ended the interview, an aide called Kelly back to Pompeo’s private living room where the correspondent said he “shouted” and “used the F word,” asking whether she thought Americans care about Ukraine, and predicting that “people will hear about this.” According to Kelly, Pompeo asked for aides to bring him a map without country names marked and asked her to identify Ukraine.

“I pointed to Ukraine he put the map away, he said, people will hear about this, and then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left,” Kelly, who has a masters degree in European Studies from Cambridge University, said Friday.

Pompeo did not dispute Kelly’s claim that she had correctly identified Ukraine. “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine,” he said in his statement — but did not allege that Kelly had done so.