Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee asked the State Department inspector general investigate the department’s handling of a journalism award meant to honor a Finnish journalist who was critical of President Trump.
According to a report released by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the State Department planned to give its International Women of Courage Award to Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro, but abruptly withdrew the honor. The State Department has maintained that it errantly notified Aro that she was the recipient of the award.
But a report compiled by Democratic staffers on the committee found that there were significant communications between Aro and the State Department leading up to the “error.” Internal communications reviewed by the committee show that at least eight State Department officials approved the wording of the bio that was meant to accompany her award and the department was in communication with Aro for several months to discuss the honor, her travel plans, and her itinerary while she was in Washington, D.C.
But two weeks after an official reportedly asked Aro for all of her social media handles, she was notified that the offer of the award had been rescinded and she was no longer invited to attend the event. Aro has tweeted lighthearted jokes about President Trump in the past and once responded to one of Trump’s tweets by suggesting the President was “trolling on behalf” of the Kremlin.
Senate Democrats claim the timing is hardly a coincidence.
“If the department rescinded the award because of statements made by a journalist, exercising her right to freedom of speech, it would mean that the Department is using political fealty to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 told CNN Thursday. “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.”
Democrats who signed the letter include Menendez, Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT), Dick Durbin (IL), Ben Cardin (MD), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Chris Coons (DE), Edward Markey (MA) and Cory Booker (NJ).