Trump Venezuela envoy interrogated by Ilhan Omar over his role in Iran-Contra scandal

Tom Embury-Dennis

Donald Trump’s envoy to Venezuela was left flustered and visibly angry following an interrogation by Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar over his controversial political past.

Elliot Abrams was appointed special envoy to Venezuela last month to help lead the US response to the political crisis in the South American country, which is seeing widespread hunger and violence following the collapse of its economy.

On Wednesday, Mr Abrams, who served in the Reagan administration, testified in front of the House foreign affairs select committee, where he was subjected to a fierce line of questioning by Ms Omar.

The 37-year-old, elected to the House in November, raised Mr Abrams’ role in the Iran-Contra affair, in which he was found guilty on two counts of withholding information from Congress. He was later pardoned by President George HW Bush.

“I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” Ms Omar said, who added it “wasn’t a question” when an agitated Mr Abrams tried to respond.

She next raised Mr Abrams’ denials of an infamous 1982 massacre against civilians by the US–funded El Salvadoran military at El Mozote, which occurred while he was the US government’s assistant secretary of state for human rights.

Mr Abrams at the time dismissed reports of hundreds of deaths as “not credible” while testifying to a Senate committee.

“In that hearing you dismissed as communist propaganda reports about the massacre of El Mozote,” Ms Omar said.

Noting up to 800 people had been killed, Ms Omar observed Mr Abrams had hailed US policy in El Salvador a “fabulous achievement”.

“Yes or no: do you still think so?” she asked.

“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election, to this day El Salvador has been a democracy,” Mr Abrams said. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”

Ms Omar responded. “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”

“That is a ridiculous question…” Mr Abrams said before Ms Omar cut him off, “Yes or no?”

“No!” Mr Abrams said, visibly angry.

Ms Omar moved onto questioning Mr Abrams over his planned approach to Venezuela.

“Yes or no, would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they were serving US interests, as you in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?” she asked.

“I am not going to respond to that question, I’m sorry” Mr Abrams said. “I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, so I will not reply.”

Ms Omar countered: “Whether under your watch a genocide will take place and you will look the other way because American interests are being upheld is a fair question.

“Because the American people want to know that any time we engage a country that we think about what our actions could be and how we believe our values are being furthered.

“That is my question. Will you make sure that human rights are not violated and we uphold international and human rights?”

Mr Abrams said: “The entire thrust of American policy in Venezuela is to support the Venezuelan people’s effort to restore democracy to their country.”