Trump administration gave Courage Award to a woman who criticized Trump, then rescinded the honor, then lied about it, a watchdog agency finds

The State Department revoked a prestigious award from a Finnish journalist because of social media posts critical of President Donald Trump, according to a report from the State Department Office of Inspector General.

Although the watchdog found that the State Department had acted within its “broad discretion” to rescind the award from Jessikka Aro, it also found that the department lied to Congress and the press to explain why it had done so.

Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist with a history of breaking stories on Russian propaganda efforts, had been slated to receive an International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award in March 2019 when suddenly and without explanation the honor was rescinded. —CNN

From the OIG report:

Based on OIG‘s analysis of that cable and other information, OIG found that Ms. Aro had been selected for the award and notified of this selection. However, after notification but prior to the award ceremony, Department officials discovered “disconcerting” social media postings by Ms. Aro, some of which were critical of the current President, and, because of these, decided to rescind the award. OIG found that decisions as to award recipients are governed solely by the guidance in the nominating cable and are wholly within the Department’s discretion and that the Department’s decision to rescind the award appeared to be an authorized exercise of its discretion. However, the Department initially stated to the public and to Congressional staff that Ms. Aro was incorrectly notified of the selection and, when asked direct questions, refused to acknowledge that her social media posts factored into the decision. The Department subsequently provided more information in response to a congressional question for the record in which it acknowledged that, in general, a nominee’s social media posts is one factor reviewed when determining eligibility for an IWOC award. —Office of Inspector General, US Department of State


Critics of the department’s handling of the matter say the actions of U.S. officials contradicted the spirit of the Courage awards, which since 2007 have honored women who “have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” according to the State Department’s website.

“Secretary Pompeo should have honored a courageous journalist willing to stand up to Kremlin propaganda. Instead, his department sought to stifle dissent to avoid upsetting a president who, day after day, tries to take pages out of Putin’s playbook,” Menendez said. “The State Department owes Ms. Aro an apology.” Washington Post

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