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Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump

Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump
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The State Department's internal watchdog confirmed that the Trump administration rescinded an award from a Finnish journalist after discovering she had criticized the president in social media posts.

The State Department initially told journalist Jessikka Aro that she would receive the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award, but plans were later revised.

The watchdog report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) notes Aro's remarks about the president concerned some senior U.S. officials and prompted a withdrawal from her receiving the award due to a possible public relations dilemma.

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"The Inspector General's report is another somber example of how fear and partisanship have permeated our nation's foreign policy and diplomacy under the Trump administration," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez and seven other senators including Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Democrats revive debate over calling impeachment witnesses LIVE COVERAGE: Senate trial moves to closing arguments MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (D-N.J.) requested the investigation into rescinding Aro's award.

Aro was selected for the award for her reporting on Russian propaganda activities dating to 2014, The Washington Post reported.

She was informed of her selection and offered flight options before the award selection was rescinded.

"Trump constantly labels journalists as 'enemy' and 'fake news,' " she said on social media in 2018, according to the report. 

In another post, she said that Trump and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHow to rethink Russia sanctions Tucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' MORE would meet in Helsinki, where "Finnish people can protest them both. Sweet."

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According to notes obtained by the inspector general, U.S. officials and the acting director of the Office of Global Women's Issues argued Aro's award invitation should be withdrawn on Feb. 15 last year.

The director's concerns included that the "media could highlight the tweets and Facebook posts during the ceremony," causing "potential embarrassment to the Department, particularly given the involvement of the Secretary and the First Lady," referencing Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJill Biden picks up where she left off The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden navigates pressures from Dems Former first lady launches 'Office of Melania Trump' MORE.

“Every person OIG interviewed in connection with this matter acknowledged” that had her posts not been flagged, “Ms. Aro would have received the IWOC Award,” the report said.

Before her award's rescission, Aro's name was included as an awardee in a memo that was approved by Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Trump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC China labels human rights criticism 'groundless' MORE, the report added.

The report's findings could dampen already shaky tensions between the department's leadership and the OIG following the firing of Inspector General Steve Linick this spring at Pompeo's request.

The Hill contacted the State Department but did not immediately receive a response.