Watchdog: State Dept Lied About Rescinding Woman's Award
The State Departments internal watchdog has determined that the agency lied to the public and Congress about the reasons it rescinded a prestigious award to a Finnish journalist who had been critical of the Trump administration.
- Associated Press
- Last Updated: September 25, 2020, 19:33 IST
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WASHINGTON: The State Departments internal watchdog has determined that the agency lied to the public and Congress about the reasons it rescinded a prestigious award to a Finnish journalist who had been critical of the Trump administration.
The departments inspector general said in a report issued Friday that explanations for the decision not to honor Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro with an International Woman of Courage award in 2019 were inaccurate and misleading. Although the report said the department had the right to rescind the award, it said officials were not honest about their reasons for doing so.
The report cited internal emails and interviews with those in the selection process that indicated the award was revoked because of fears based on her social media posts that Aro might make political statements critical of President Donald Trump and the administration at a gala ceremony that was attended by first lady Melania Trump.
Because decisions as to IWOC awardees are solely within the departments discretion, the decision to rescind Ms. Aros award appears to have been an authorized exercise of the Departments broad discretion to select awardees,” it said.
OIG found, however, that department officials made subsequent statements to the public and to congressional staff that inaccurately asserted that Ms. Aro was erroneously notified that she had been selected for the award and that factors other than Ms. Aros social media posts formed the basis of the decision not to give her the IWOC Award.
Aro had been told she had won one of the awards for her work in exposing Russian propaganda and misinformation, but was later told the notification had been a mistake.
The department told reporters and congressional aides at the time that the notification had been the result of an unfortunate error and poor coordination between the embassy in Helsinki and Washington. The inspector general, however, determined that Aros social media posts critical of Trump were the primary reason the award was rescinded.
In response to questions from some reporters, department officials offered several explanations, including a convoluted answer that claimed there were too many awardees from Europe and that one of them had to be dropped in the interest of geographic fairness.
At a department press briefing, a spokesman characterized assertions that the decision was based on Aro’s social media statements as speculation and refused to discuss the selection process further.
The departments statements during this briefing do not align with the internal discussions that occurred at the time the decision was made to rescind Ms. Aros selection,” the report found.
In response to questions from congressional aides, the department said that confusion due to the government shutdown had caused the error. It made no mention of Aro’s social media posts and said the honor was rescinded because Aro was not sufficiently aligned with the broader goals of the award.
But the report cited internal documents as saying that Aro had not been fully vetted for the award and had a history of inflammatory tweets, targeting US leadership and the administration in a specific way. One document noted that the identified disconcerting social media content could lead to potentially embarrassing media coverage for the department and the first lady along with the other awardees.
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