The Trump administration rescinded an award given to a journalist in Finland after they discovered she had criticised the president on social media, a report by the State Department’s internal watchdog has found.
The report, filed by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), also found that the administration also gave a false explanation for withdrawing the honor from journalist Jessikka Aro.
Ms Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist who broke stories on Russian propaganda and misinformation efforts was selected for an International Woman of Courage Award in March 2019.
The award was later withdrawn by the administration and Ms Aro was told that the notification of her selection had been a mistake.
The report, conducted after eight senators requested an investigation into Ms Aro’s situation found that the administration revoked it on the basis of social media posts she had previously made.
"Indeed, every person OIG interviewed in connection with this matter acknowledged that had (the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues) not highlighted her social media posts as problematic, Ms Aro would have received the IWOC Award," the report said.
The social media posts discovered by the administration made by Ms Aro that they “considered controversial” included some which were “critical of the current president”.
In one tweet from 2018, Ms Aro said Mr Trump “constantly labels journalists as ‘enemy’ and ‘fake news.,'" the report said. In another from the same year Ms Aro said it would be “sweet” that Mr Trump and Mr Putin would be meeting in Helsinki, Finland, so that “Finnish people can protest them both.”
According to the exchanges documented, certain US officials feared that “the media could highlight the tweets and Facebook posts during the ceremony,” causing potential embarrassment to the department and first lady Melania Trump, who attended the ceremony.
The OIG also found that while the administration was within its “broad discretion” to deny her award, they had also subsequently lied to Ms Aro and the public about whether her award was rescinded and why.
“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 Aro’s social media posts formed the basis of the decision not to give her the IWOC Award," the report read.
In light of the findings of the report Ms Aro told CNN: "In my heart I feel like an international woman of courage. That the Trump administration can't take away from me."
Sen Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the eight senators who requested the investigation condemned the findings as a reflection of wider issues in the Trump administration.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press