WASHINGTON (AP) — A foundation that advocates for the safety of journalists and the release of Americans held hostage abroad has rescinded an award it planned to present to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prompting him to accuse the organization on Friday of bowing to media bias against him.
The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation said it canceled plans to present Pompeo with its “hostage freedom award” at its annual dinner this week because of what it felt was an inadequate response by the administration to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The foundation, named for an American journalist who was killed in Syria in 2014, issued a statement saying it changed its plans because the “administration did not press for genuine accountability from the Saudi government” for the slaying of Khashoggi in October.
In its statement, the foundation thanked Pompeo for his “extraordinary efforts” to bring Americans home and expressed gratitude for the administration’s success in doing so.
Instead of Pompeo, the Foley foundation gave the award on Tuesday to Brett McGurk, a former senior diplomat who was the special envoy for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition until he resigned in protest over the administration’s plans to withdraw American troops from Syria.
Pompeo called the cancellation “unfortunate,” and did not accept the explanation.
“I regret that there was pressure applied by the media for that award to be withdrawn,” the secretary said in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”
He did not specify who may have applied pressure and defended the Trump administration’s efforts to gain the release of Americans held overseas.
“Award or no award,” Pompeo said, “we’re going to keep working at this problem, and every family out there today that has one of their family members detained should know that the United States is hard at work, even as I sit here, to get them back.”
In a second statement later Friday, the foundation said the award would have conflicted with a core mission of the organization: promoting the safety of journalists. “Our decision had nothing to do with whether we received media pressure,” it said.
Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., was killed inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by Saudi agents with ties to the country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
After initially denying any involvement with his disappearance, Saudi authorities arrested more than a dozen people but reject any connection to the crown prince.
Lawmakers from both parties and human rights advocates have criticized the response to the killing from the Trump administration, which has revoked visas of those implicated by the Saudi authorities but declined to take further steps.
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