A leading hostage rights group caved in to pressure from the anti-Trump media and withdrew its prestigious “Freedom Award” from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, disinviting him from their awards banquet this week. According to a report in the Washington Examiner Wednesday, the group’s “media partners” threatened to boycott the event if Pompeo got the award after keynote speaker, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, expressed her “concern.”
The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, named for the journalist beheaded in 2014 by ISIS forces, was poised to recognize the Trump administration’s successful efforts to free political prisoners around the world with the “2019 Foley American Hostage Freedom Award.”
The award was to recognize Pompeo and the administration’s focus on freeing Americans held prisoners around the world, a campaign that has topped the president’s foreign policy agenda and inspired the appointment of a “special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.”
The group even posted its decision online in its invitation for supporters to pay up to $50,000 a table to attend the awards banquet.
Soon after the award was announced, the foundation withdrew it, according to the Examiner.
Angry anti-Trump media blocks 'Freedom Award' to @SecPompeo for work on getting freedom for political hostages, goes to Obama diplomat instead. https://t.co/b3nMQfud05 pic.twitter.com/d9WUL71VID
— Paul Bedard (@SecretsBedard) April 3, 2019
They instead gave the award to mediocre Obama-era diplomat Brett McGurk during the event at the National Press Club Tuesday night.
McGurk is credited with helping to win the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Americans from Iran through a prisoner swap in 2016.
In just over two years, Trump and Pompeo have helped secure the release of Tony Kim, Kim Hak Song, and Kim Dong Chul from North Korea, as well as Otto Warmbier, who unfortunately died soon afterward. They also managed the rescue of Caitlin Coleman and her children from Afghanistan. Finally, their efforts led to the release of Josh Holt from Venezuela, Pastor Brunson from Turkey, and Danny Burch just last month from Yemen.
Knowledgeable sources said the group’s “media partners” promised to boycott the event if Pompeo got the award, apparently distressed over giving the administration any credit.
Those sources added that keynote speaker Christiane Amanpour was concerned about Pompeo getting the award.
Diane Foley, James Foley’s mother and the foundation’s president and founder, had personally told Pompeo of the award in her own note, before retracting it, the Examiner reported.
Pompeo called the decision “sad” in a diplomatic letter to Foley and ripped the “ignoble conduct” of the “cynical and abominable” media for allowing politics to interfere with a good cause.
“I was truly honored to have been selected to receive the 2019 Foley American Hostage Freedom Award,” he wrote. “Jim’s life and his legacy inspire me in my work.”
“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,” wrote Pompeo.
“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 to James Foley’s father.
Pompeo assured the Foleys that “the ignoble conduct of those behind this sad deed will never diminish my commitment, of the commitment of the men and women I lead, to the safe recovery of all Americans unjustly held abroad.”
Asked for comment, the foundation’s Executive Director Margaux Ewen praised Pompeo but refused to address why it yanked his award and invitation.
“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,” said the statement to Secrets.
To many administration officials, the award made tremendous sense since the White House and State have worked overtime on hostage issues. Trump, for example, receives weekly updates on those kept prisoner.
In a show of support hours before the dinner, in fact, Pompeo hosted many past hostages and their families at the State Department.
“I want you all to have a personal relationship with us and get to know our hearts and our mission, the mission that we carry forward on behalf of your loved ones each and every day,” said Pompeo.
“Please, too, don’t be discouraged by propaganda from our enemies,” he added. “They want to divide us. They want to distract us from our mission to rescue your loved ones. Know that we are not distracted. I’d urge you to help us, be with us, and stay the course.”
Pompeo told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday morning that the State Department invited family members “of those that we’ve not been able to bring back, some who are still held, and then folks who had been held” to the event.
“We did this with a singular purpose,” he explained.
We want Americans to know, frankly, we want the world to know that America and its State Department will not rest until every single American who is wrongly detained or held hostage is brought home. And I, too, wanted to personally let those family members who are suffering, they’ve got loved ones who are being held in Syria, in Iran, other places in the Middle East, I wanted them to know that they’re on my mind, they’re in my prayers, they’re on my heart, and that our team under the guidance of President Trump is focused on getting each and every one of them back to their families.
Pompeo told Hewitt that President Trump asks him about the prisoners every week, and credited his attention to the issue for the success the administration has had in bringing so many prisoners home.
And there is a formal update that’s provided to him as well. We’re just, we walk through the situation, what we’re doing, actions we might take, actions that he might take to increase the probability that we’ll get these folks home. I think our success to date in this administration, now two years on, of getting these people back without putting a bunch of money on a, cash on a pallet, by simply using American diplomacy and power to get these individuals returned home, I think our success to date is a direct function of the President’s attention to these issues.
When asked why the national media isn’t interested in reporting this bipartisan story, the secretary answered:
I can’t account for why they’re not as interested in it, but this is an important note. We work with members of Congress all the time. Sometimes, it’s their constituents. Sometimes, they just have a particular interest in getting folks back. We work closely with them. We work closely with every element of the United States Government – the FBI, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, all of us working together.
In the end, “it is not about bipartisanship,” Pompeo said. “It’s about America and getting these folks returned home.”