Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a 'faith-based media only' press briefing, and people have lots of questions

Mike Pompeo meets the press
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a Monday afternoon phone briefing on his trip to the Middle East and "international religious freedom." But the one member of the State Department press corps invited to participate in the call was "un-invited after RSVPing," told the call was for "faith-based media only," CNN reports. The State Department said it won't release a transcript of the call or a list of participating outlets, and "officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included."

On Tuesday, Religion News Service listed some of the participants in the call: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Jewish), Algemeiner (Jewish), World Magazine (evangelical Christian), America Magazine (Catholic), The Leaven (Catholic — Kansas City archdiocese), and Religion News Service ("a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality, and ethics").

A participant in the call shared a transcript with reporters on Tuesday evening, showing that "Pompeo faced questions about the Israeli election, terrorism, and the omission of the word 'occupied' when describing the Golan Heights and the West Bank," CNN reports. In a subsequent briefing with the traveling press corps, CNN says, Pompeo "was asked similar questions and provided similar responses."

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Former State Department spokesman Jack Kirby told CNN it's "inappropriate and irresponsible" not to release the transcript of "any on-the-record interview in which a Cabinet official participates," and excluding "beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded."

The Trump administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after Israel's election, and earlier this month the White House hosted a group of evangelical Christian leaders "to reassure them about the plan," Axios reported. Pompeo declined to comment on the White House's outreach in Monday's call, RNS reports, but he said a "broad base of people" will be briefed, and "as an evangelical Christian myself, I've always understood the centrality of that place."

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