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) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats press for action on election security The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (D-Vt.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi Senate Democrats block government spending bill Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw MORE (D-Ill.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela MORE (D-Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenMeghan McCain: Lewandowski Senate run would be 'an absolutely ridiculous crap show' Super PAC targets Lewandowski with ad amid Senate speculation Lewandowski 'very, very close to announcing' decision on Senate run MORE (D-N.H.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMedia and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel MORE (D-Del.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Kennedy to challenge Markey in Senate primary Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists MORE (D-Mass.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall 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.”