Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic

A Democratic report released Thursday calls into question the State Department’s decision earlier this month to rescind an award to a Finnish journalist who criticized the Trump administration.

The report compiled by the Democratic staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rebuked the State Department’s explanation that it withdrew the International Women of Courage (IWOC) award Jessikka Aro due to an “error” rather than over her criticism of the president.

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“The Department’s statements are not borne out by, and appear to be in direct contradiction with, the communications and documents reviewed by Democratic Committee staff,” the report says.

Senator Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrats grill USDA official on relocation plans that gut research staff Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens MORE (D-Vt.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business MORE (D-Ill.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCan new US Strategy on Women, Peace & Security give women a real seat at the table? Ask Afghan women Maryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt MORE (D-Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship MORE (D-Del.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator FTC looks to update children's internet privacy rules MORE (D-Mass.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden leads, Warren and Sanders tied for second in new poll The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Biden, Harris set for second Democratic debate showdown MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter immediately after the report’s release to the State Department Inspector General to probe the department’s decision to cancel the award. 

“If the Department rescinded the award because of statements made by a journalist, exercising her right to freedom of speech, it would mean that the Department is using political fealty to the President as an eligibility criteria for receiving a government award designed to highlight courage,” Menendez said in a statement. 

“Furthermore, misleading the public and Congress about the true reasons behind its actions would harm the Department’s reputation here in the United States and around the world, and undermine its credibility regarding future pronouncements from the press podium. I am confident that the Inspector General will be able to determine whether the Department rescinded the award improperly, in deviation from past practices, or on the basis of inappropriate political criteria.” 

The State Department said in March that it had not intended to grant Aro the award, but that a miscommunication led to her being notified she had won the honor.

“We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” a spokesperson told The Hill after the award was revoked.

However, internal communications reviewed by CNN indicate that State Department and US embassy officials in Finland had bee in talks with Aro for months about the award and her travel to Washington for its acceptance. 

An unnamed State Department official also told Foreign Policy that Aro’s award was withdrawn over her comments regarding the White House.

“[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told the magazine. “The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality.”