The State Department Inspector General’s office (OIG) released a report on Friday that confirmed the department had rescinded an International Women of Courage (IWOC) award to Finnish reporter Jessikka Aro last year over her tweets that criticized President Donald Trump.
In the report, the OIG recognized that decisions on granting awards lie “solely within the Department’s discretion” and that the cancelation “appears to have been an authorized exercise” of that discretion.
However, the watchdog found that the excuses officials had publicly put forth were bogus, including their claim that Aro had been offered the award by mistake, and discovered that the department’s controversial decision was in fact tied to the reporter’s posts about Trump on Twitter.
“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,” the report said. “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.”
The OIG reported that after Aro had been offered the IWOC, staffers at the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) combed through her social media accounts and alerted the office’s acting director of several tweets about Trump. One of Aro’s tweets in September 2018 stated, “Trump constantly labels journalists as ‘enemy’ and ‘fake news.’ One Trump supporter made threatening calls to Boston Globe reporters and said he was shooting them in the head because they are ‘enemies of the people’ and ‘fake news.’ A search of the house found weapons and ammunition.”
In another tweet deemed problematic by the department, Aro had written in June 2018 that “Russian troll factory organized pro-Trump protests in US soil. In July Trump and Putin will meet in Helsinki, Finland, and Finnish people can protest them both. Sweet.”
According to the OIG, the acting S/GWI director wrote to the staffers that she was “very concerned” that the tweets “may cause blowback.”
“She is not suitable,” the director wrote.
The OIG’s investigation found that the director and other senior officials were concerned that Aro’s presence could embarrass First Lady Melania Trump, who would present the award, and the State Department itself.
The OIG obtained the S/GWI’s memo on its decision to rescind the award based on her “history of inflammatory tweets, targeting US leadership and the Administration in a specific way,” and 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.”
The OIG noted that it had found no documents indicating any other reason for revoking the award at the time. When the State Department first addressed the cancellation, it claimed Aro had been “incorrectly notified” that she had been awarded an IWOC and that she was “was not sufficiently aligned with the broader goals of the award,” without mentioning her social media posts.
When asked for a comment on the report, State Department spokesperson Julia Mason pointed to S/GWI Ambassador-at-Large Kelley Currie’s letter to the watchdog noting that since joining the office in December, “I have implemented a robust examination of office policies and procedures to ensure consistency, transparency, and accountability.”