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Sotloffs "bullied and hectored" by NSC, family friend says

Barak Barfi, a longtime friend of the Sotloff family, joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss Steven Sotloff's execution by ISIS, government threats and paying ransoms
Journalist Steven Sotloff's friend: U.S. government did nothing to help Sotloff family 04:56

Barak Barfi is a longtime friend of Steven Sotloff. He acts as a spokesperson and adviser to the Sotloff family.

Barfi told CBS News the Sotloff family felt abandoned by the U.S. government in their time of need.

"We never really believed that the administration was doing anything to help us," Barfi said. "We had very, very limited contact with senior officials. It was basically limited to two FBI agents, and when I tried to ask for a senior point of contact, all the administration said is, 'You can speak with to the consulate of bureau affairs at the State Department.'"

Barfi said he and the Sotloff family were unsatisfied with the level of attention they were given.

"What I wanted to do from the beginning is have a senior point of contact in the White House that answers directly to the president to gather information from the various arms of government so that they could coordinate better and convey that information," Barfi said. "When I needed to talk to an FBI agent about a very important matter I had to wait 45 minutes before he could call me back. And that's not his problem, that's the system's problem."

The family wanted a 24-hour crisis line.

"We wanted them to coordinate the information, we wanted a 24-hour crisis center where we could call and they could respond to us immediately, just like the Europeans have," Barfi said.

Barfi said the Sotloff family met with the administration about raising money to free Steven, but those plans were immediately shot down by a National Security Council official.

"What happened is, we had meetings with the administration," Barfi said. "The family sat with the National Security Council official. And basically he bullied and hectored them, and they were scared. He had no business. He's a Marine. He's not a Justice Department lawyer. He's not an official from the organization of foreign asset control, the Treasury. He shouldn't be telling them what the law is. He's a counterterrorism specialist. That is what he should be talking about. And then after they had these meetings, I sat in other meetings with mid-level state department officials and the FBI and I basically heard the same thing."

Barfi says there was nothing he could do to convince officials otherwise.

"I tried to come up with creative solutions about how we can get around the law. I said, 'Well, how do you know that the group holding Steve is a terrorist organization?' 'We know,' they said. Or 'How would you know if we tried to transfer money?' 'The banks wouldn't allow it.' 'They shot us down at every opportunity.'"

Barfi said despite what others who are affiliated with the Sotloffs may say, the family was indeed bullied by the National Security Council.

"That's basically what happened," Barfi said."The Sotloffs feel this. I'm hearing that Denis McDonough is saying they weren't threatened, he wasn't in the meeting. John Kerry wasn't in the meetings. The family was in the meetings, and then I was in a subsequent meeting, and I know what I heard."

Barfi says he does not know what prompted officials to act in such a way.

"We don't know," he said. "We don't have a view into the White House. We didn't have a very good relationship with the administration. They met just once or twice with administration officials and just a couple follow-up phone calls, so we don't know what the administration's policy was on this."

Barfi says that since Steven's tragic beheading, the Sotloff family "had two phone calls with a senior White House official; one to inform us of the raid and another to make a request, which was rebuffed."

According to Barfi, Steven was a selfless person and a dedicated reporter.

"Steve was one of the nicest people you could meet. He would have said, 'I don't need all this attention about my execution. Focus it, and channel it to the hundreds of thousands of people who are dying in Syria and Iraq. Their story is not being told.' He didn't want the limelight shined on him," he said.

Barfi actually spoke to Sotloff the day of his kidnapping.

"He was going to go in, he was going to do one last run just like the George C. Scott movie, and then he was going to get out," Barfi said. "He had some high-level meetings set up, but unfortunately he never made it."

Steven's mission and his legacy, according to Barfi, was to explain what was happening to the American public through his reporting.

"Steve wanted to give a voice for those who had none. That was his mission from the first day that he started reporting in the Middle East. He went to places that other people didn't go," Barfi said. "He spent months in Benghazi after the 9/11 attacks. He spoke to Ahmed Abu Khatallah. He went to his house, he befriended him. They weren't friends, but he established a relationship where Abu Khatallah was able to trust him."

He did all of this with the risks clearly in mind.

"There's always a risk in these regions," Barfi said. "But the American people deserve to know what's going on out there."

Barfi told CBS News the Sotloff family is still recovering from their loss.

"It's very, very difficult for us at this time," Barfi said. "We just cannot accept that we will not see Steven again. We heard from him from the hostages, we saw the other hostages get out. We just don't understand why these two Americans had to die."

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