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) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release MORE (D-Vt.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (D-Ill.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Senate Dem: Trump 'using immigrants as pawns' Bottom Line MORE (D-Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne Shaheen2020 Dems back repeal of controversial New Hampshire voting law New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (D-N.H.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? DHS plan for face scanning at airports sparks alarm Amazon hiring alcohol lobbyist MORE (D-Mass.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerK Street support to test Buttigieg We should welcome workers' 'powerful victory' in the Stop & Shop strike Harris adds another to her list of endorsements in South Carolina 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.”