Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departed the United States on Monday for a short trip abroad without taking any members of the press, a move that drew a reproof from an organization that represents the interests of State Department journalists.
“The State Department Correspondents’ Association believes it is vital for the press to be present on all official trips of the Secretary of State,” Shaun Tandon, president of the association, told CNN Business in a statement.
“Crises can erupt at any moment,” Tandon added, “so it is indispensable to have reporters who can quickly, thoroughly and accurately cover the decision-making of the top diplomat of the United States.”
The State Department announced on Sunday that Pompeo would travel to Belgium on September 2-3 for meetings with global leaders.
It is unusual for a secretary of state to travel abroad for such meetings without being accompanied by the press. Pompeo did not travel with even a pool reporter who could then send updates to the rest of the press, Tandon said.
Pompeo was initially slated to travel with President Donald Trump on his trip to Poland, and then make the stop in Brussels on the way back.
But Trump canceled his trip to Poland late last week to monitor the situation with Hurricane Dorian, prompting the State Department to quickly organize a solo trip for Pompeo.
The last-minute nature of Pompeo’s trip could have accounted for the lack of press.
“We understand that the Brussels trip was decided at the last minute and that the State Department does not anticipate open-press events on this brief visit,” Tandon told CNN. “Nonetheless, we must make sure that this does not create a precedent and that reporters continue to be systematically present on the Secretary’s plane.”
Morgan Ortagus, the State Department’s spokesperson, told CNN Business that while the trip for Pompeo was planned quickly, “the press pool was given notification around the same time as the Secretary’s staff of the trip and the schedule, along with the offer to fly commercially to cover the Secretary’s trip to Belgium.”
Ortagus said Pompeo used a small plane — with no extra available seating — for this trip. She said department officials had hoped press members would fly commercially to cover the trip, but that “they chose not to do so.”
“As a department, we are committed to full transparency and a free and open press around the world,” she said. “Going forward, we hope that members of the State Department bullpen will chose to fly with the Secretary or even commercially to cover American diplomacy, even on holiday weekends.”
This is not the first time the State Department has ignited uproar over the amount of access it has given to the press.
In 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Asia with only a single reporter from a conservative upstart website.
The issues are, of course, part of a much broader adversarial relationship the Trump administration has had with journalists.
Trump has said that he hopes one of the legacies of his presidency will be “exposing” what he has repeatedly claimed is “massive dishonesty” in the media.
On Monday, Trump continued to use dangerous rhetoric to attack the press. He said his “primary opponent” is the media, falsely. claiming the press has “gone totally CRAZY.”