The Trump State Department rescinded an award for a Finnish journalist who’s been critical of Donald Trump on social media, and Senate Democrats want answers. Sen. Bob Menendez and other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are calling on the State Department’s inspector general to investigate the department’s claims that Jessikka Aro had been “incorrectly notified” that she was a finalist for the International Women of Courage award.
Aro is certainly an international woman of courage, award or no award. She is “a leader in exposing Kremlin disinformation techniques and teaching governments, the media, and civil society organizations how to protect themselves against this threat,” and her effectiveness has spurred a pro-Kremlin troll campaign against her so intense that some of her harassers have been convicted of crimes and one has been jailed.
According to a report by the committee Democrats, Aro was first nominated for the award in October 2018 by U.S. Embassy Helsinki. She was internally selected as a finalist in early January, and notified on Jan. 25. “Eight different officials from four different offices at the State Department edited and approved an updated biography of Aro,” the report notes. On Feb. 8, she was asked for her social media handles, and on Feb. 12 she got a formal invitation, as well as a visa form signed by a State Department official, saying that Aro was “eligible and qualified for, and accepted into, the program in which he or she will participate.”
Multiple other communications followed … until Feb. 22, when Aro learned in person that she wouldn’t get the award. Aro had questions, which she presented to the State Department in a letter from her lawyer, but she hasn’t gotten answers. Some answers, though, came unofficially on March 7 in a Foreign Policy article, “which cited internal sources claiming that the Department ‘revoked her award after U.S. officials went through Aro’s social media posts and found she had also frequently criticized President Donald Trump.’” But the State Department insisted to Foreign Policy that Aro was “incorrectly notified” she was getting the award, in a “regrettable error.”
Again, her bio had been edited by eight officials from four offices. She’d gotten an official invitation and a signed visa form saying she’d been “accepted into, the program in which … she will participate.” And, yes, she’d been asked for her social media handles just two weeks before the invitation was revoked and just under a month before the report that her social media was the problem.
So, yes, the inspector general should investigate this. But it doesn’t seem like much of an investigation will be necessary.