Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview Friday with Fox News, spoke out against a last-minute decision from a leading human rights group to rescind a prestigious award after apparent complaints from media critics.
Pompeo was set to receive the 2019 Foley American Hostage Freedom Award at a gala hosted by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation on Tuesday night.
The foundation, which “advocates for the safe return of all Americans unjustly detained abroad and to protect freelance journalists,” was going to bestow the honor on Pompeo for his work in helping to free Americans imprisoned around the world.
Speaking to “Fox & Friends” Friday, Pompeo addressed the controversy, suggesting the award was pulled due to pressure from media outlets.
“The return of hostages isn't partisan. It's not political. This is an American activity,” he said.
“We worked with Democrat members of Congress on this. This is not partisan.
“And yet, it sounds like some in the media, who were underwriting this event – sponsors for the event said ‘if Pompeo is there, we won't be.’”
However, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation told Fox News the decision was not made due to media pressure, and instead because of the Trump administration's response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
"While it is accurate that our foundation intended to present our hostage freedom award to Secretary Pompeo... 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," a statement read.
"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. 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."
Earlier this week, Pompeo reportedly sent a letter to Diane Foley -- the president of the foundation and mother of James Foley, the American journalist killed by ISIS -- after learning of the decision.
“I was truly honored to have been selected to receive the 2019 Foley American Hostage Freedom Award. Jim’s life and his legacy inspire me in my work,” the secretary wrote, as first reported by the Washington Examiner and confirmed by Fox News.
“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.”
Fox News' Rich Edson contributed to this report.