September 25, 2020

Menendez on OIG Investigation into State Department’s False Justifications for Rescinding Award to Finnish Journalist Jessikka Aro

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement on the newly released report by the State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) into the State Department’s rescission of the 2019 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award finalist status from Jessikka Aro, a Finnish journalist and campaigner against Kremlin propaganda. The OIG conducted the investigation at the request of Senator Menendez and 7 other Senators after Menendez commissioned a report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that called the Department’s claims into question.

“The Inspector General’s report is another somber example of how fear and partisanship have permeated our nation’s foreign policy and diplomacy under the Trump administration. Jessikka Aro is a brave Finnish journalist who was among the first to expose a Russian troll farm that targeted our last presidential election—an operation later indicted by the Department of Justice. Russian trolls then subjected her to a ruthless campaign of harassment and death threats so severe that she was forced to leave Finland.

“U.S. diplomats in Helsinki sought to recognize her for her courage. Secretary Pompeo agreed, and last year Ms. Aro was told she would receive  the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. But after senior Department officials reviewed her social media posts and found that Ms. Aro had tweeted about President Trump’s ‘fake news’ attacks on the media, they decided she no longer deserved the award.

“As first uncovered by a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report, the Inspector General confirmed that Secretary Pompeo’s Department misled the public and Congress about why it rescinded Ms. Aro’s award, covering up that her social media posts were the reason the award was withdrawn. The Trump administration also drafted talking points that falsely stated Ms. Aro had never been selected as a recipient.

“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. The State Department owes Ms. Aro an apology.”

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