WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday pushed back on claims that the Obama administration threatened prosecution against the families of two American journalists brutally murdered by Islamic State militants in recent weeks.
The parents of James Foley and Steven Sotloff say the administration warned them against going to the media or raising a ransom to try to free their sons, both of whom had been kidnapped by the Islamic State, the terrorist group in Syria sometimes called ISIS. Foley and Sotloff's families have claimed that government officials threatened them with criminal prosecution if they attempted to get involved.
McDonough said nobody was threatened, but the families were made aware of the law. The U.S. National Security Council has indicated that is against the law to make ransom payments to certain people or entities, including the Islamic State, and that it is against U.S. policy to grant concessions to hostage takers.
"In terms of what was communicated to the families, in the midst of many, many meetings over the course of this very difficult circumstance, we obviously made clear what the law is," McDonough said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "We didn’t threaten anybody, but we made clear what the law is. That's our responsibility, to make sure we explain the law and uphold the law.”
McDonough said that as a father, he feels for the "very difficult circumstances" the families are enduring. He emphasized that the administration "took every effort and will continue to take every effort to secure people."
The Islamic State released a third video on Saturday purportedly showing the murder of British aid worker David Haines. The Guardian reports that the British Foreign Office believes the video to be genuine.