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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The State Department's internal watchdog confirmed that the Trump administration rescinded an award from a Finnish journalist after discovering she had criticized the president in social media posts.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 MarkeyThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks Senate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory BookerZombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Absences force Senate to punt vote on Biden nominee 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She was informed of her selection and offered flight options before the award selection was rescinded.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. 

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In another post, she said that Trump and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCyber concerns dominate Biden-Putin summit Overnight Defense: Biden, Putin agree to launch arms control talks at summit | 2002 war authorization repeal will get Senate vote | GOP rep warns Biden 'blood with be on his hands' without Afghan interpreter evacuation Hillicon Valley: Biden, Putin agree to begin work on addressing cybersecurity concerns | Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees | Rick Scott threatens to delay national security nominees until Biden visits border MORE would meet in Helsinki, where "Finnish people can protest them both. Sweet."

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, Kate Middleton visit school together in first meeting Jill Biden wears 'LOVE' jacket 'to bring unity' to meeting with Boris Johnson White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality 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 PompeoNikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters RNC's McDaniel launches podcast highlighting Republicans outside of Washington 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.