Under fire on social media for withdrawing its “Freedom Award” to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for his and President Trump’s achievements in freeing several U.S. political prisoners, a hostages right group is now blaming the administration for not doing enough.
In a statement to Secrets, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation said it yanked the award and Pompeo’s invitation to their annual dinner held in Washington this week because the administration hasn’t been tough enough on Saudi Arabia over the slaying of Riyadh critic and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The foundation, named for the journalist beheaded in 2014 by ISIS forces, had previously told Secrets that it “doesn’t comment on the deliberative process that goes into the decision to award our honorees.”
State, however, had been told that media criticism of the foundation’s plan to award the administration was so harsh that it had to yank it. According to a letter to the foundation from Pompeo, in fact, some in the media had threatened to disrupt and walk out of the awards dinner held at the National Press Club.
But today, with Pompeo praising the Foley family in a "Fox and Friends" appearance, the foundation pushed back against criticism of its award withdrawal by blaming the administration’s diplomatic handling of the Khashoggi case.
“The January 11 decision with respect to the James W. Foley Hostage Advocate award is being mischaracterized by some media outlets. While it is accurate that our foundation intended to present our hostage freedom award to Secretary Pompeo until that date, we ultimately decided we could not present the award as planned due to the dramatic change in circumstances when the administration did not press for genuine accountability from the Saudi government for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said the statement sent by foundation Executive Director Margaux Ewen.
It added, “In addition to advocating for the safe return of American hostages abroad, the protection of free speech and promotion of journalists’ safety is a key pillar of our foundation and this award would have been in conflict with that key principle.”
The group made no mention of Khashoggi when Secrets first asked about the award withdrawal.
The foundation gave Pompeo’s award to Brett McGurk, the Obama-era diplomat who helped win the release of Americans from Iran, including journalist Jason Rezaian. Rezaian received the group’s journalism award.
Pompeo, who has led the Trump-directed campaign to win the freedom of Americans held abroad, was clearly hurt by the withdrawal and told Fox and Friends today. “It’s sad,” he said, arguing, “the return of hostages isn’t partisan, it’s an American activity.”
In a letter sent this week to the group, he ripped unnamed media critics for bullying the foundation into taking back its award.
Pompeo wrote, “I was truly honored to have been selected to receive the 2019 Foley American Hostage Freedom Award,” he penned. “Jim’s life and his legacy inspire me in my work.”
But then he added, “I understand that the Foundation decided to rescind the Freedom Award and my invitation to attend the 2019 James W. Foley Freedom Awards due to pressure from its media partners and your fear, stated in your letter, that some guests at the dinner would not show my office proper respect if I attended. How sad is it that base politics and hatred have been allowed to creep into even this sphere of our national activity? The safe recovery of Americans held hostage overseas should be beyond politics and must enjoy the support of all Americans. I regret that pressure of such a cynical and abominable nature was brought to bear on you and John,” he added in a reference also to James Foley’s father.”
During Trump’s time in the Oval Office, he has pressed several world leaders for help freeing Americans abroad, appointed a special envoy to handle negotiations, and flown to Andrews Air Force Base to personally welcome some home. What's more, Pompeo met at State with former hostages and families on Tuesday, the day he was to have received the Freedom Award.
At the end of the new statement, the group cut and paste in the same praise for Pompeo it had in the prior statement.
It said, “We thank Secretary Pompeo for his extraordinary efforts to bring Americans home and are grateful for all that he and this administration have accomplished to prioritize the return of our citizens. In particular we are thankful for the time he dedicated to meeting with families of American hostages on Tuesday. We look forward to working closely with Secretary Pompeo and this administration on these efforts to bring Americans safely home.”