facebook linkedin twitter

State Department Says Giuliani Was Freelancing in Venezuela

January 8, 2020by Michael Wilner and Alex Daugherty McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
Former New York City Mayor and attorney to President Donald Trump Rudy Giuliani visits "Mornings With Maria" with anchor Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business Network Studios in September, 2019 in New York City. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s personal lawyer went rogue when he attempted back-channel diplomacy with embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, according to Elliott Abrams, the senior State Department official in charge of Venezuela policy.

In an interview with McClatchy and the Miami Herald, Abrams said Rudy Giuliani’s phone conversation with Maduro in 2018 and legal work in 2019 for a wealthy Venezuelan businessman with ties to Maduro was not an official diplomatic effort approved by the State Department.

“I certainly wasn’t aware of anything that happened in 2018,” said Abrams, who joined the Trump administration the following year. “But in terms of 2019, it was not an official channel.”

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani spoke by phone with Maduro in September 2018. A member of Congress, former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was also on the reported call. Around the time of the call, Giuliani reportedly also approached John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser, to strategize over Maduro’s removal from power, with Bolton rejecting his overtures.

Abrams said in an interview over the weekend that the Trump administration has not sent any messengers to carry out diplomacy with the Maduro regime. Any efforts by Giuliani or Erik Prince — the founder of the private security company Blackwater and an informal Trump administration adviser who reportedly held secret talks with a top Venezuelan official — were done of their own accord, he added.

“We have not sent any messengers to Venezuela to carry messages to the Maduro regime. And the talks that Giuliani or Erik Prince may have had were not official, and were not carrying messages from the United States government,” Abrams said.

And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal supporter of recognized Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó, said he was never made aware of Giuliani’s work in Venezuela. Rubio said if he knew, he would have raised concerns with the administration and publicly.

“If anybody is trying to undermine the direction we’re going, I would raise that,” Rubio said.

The back-channel overtures toward Venezuela by Giuliani place him yet again in the middle of a controversy over his unofficial communications with a foreign government. His campaign to pressure the government in Ukraine to open investigations into Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has led to the president’s impeachment.

But it remains unclear whether Trump or his secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, knew about Giuliani’s contacts with Maduro, who has overseen the greatest humanitarian crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

“Both are bad situations,” Fernando Cutz, former director for South America at the White House National Security Council under the Trump administration, told McClatchy. “If the secretary was aware of this and didn’t brief his own team, that shows he knew it was bad news. If he wasn’t aware this was happening, it shows you’ve got figures going around the president’s senior Cabinet.”

The Trump administration has been attempting to push Maduro out of power for over a year, primarily through sanctions. In recent months, the administration has signaled a willingness to partner with Maduro’s political allies to ease him out of office.

The United States — and more than 50 other countries — recognize Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the nation’s legitimate interim president and has called for free and fair elections that restore the country’s democratic institutions.

At the time of the 2018 call, the United States had not yet recognized Guaidó as president.

Rubio said Tuesday Giuliani’s efforts in Venezuela were inconsequential. But he opposes the idea of Americans attempting to back-channel on behalf of blacklisted regimes such as Maduro’s Venezuela.

“Unfortunately, we have this cottage industry of American lawyers, lobbyists, operatives who sort of parachute into any area of the world where there’s U.S. policy sanctions and think they can pull off some back-channel deal that’s going to benefit them personally, or their client personally, and Venezuela’s one of those,” Rubio said. “But it hasn’t had any impact — I just care if it’s had any impact on foreign policy and it hasn’t.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who represents thousands of Venezuelans and frequently talks with Guaidó’s U.S. representatives, said Giuliani is “complicating, if not interfering with American diplomatic efforts to restore democracy and stability to Venezuela.”

“Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy campaigns have already set off alarms in other global hotspots, but it absolutely must stop in Venezuela, and the State Department must make clear that he does not speak for the American people,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “As Venezuelans put their lives on the line right now to fight for democracy there, we can’t afford to let this reckless, feckless freelancer muddle such a delicate and volatile political situation.”

José Cárdenas, who worked on Latin America policy in the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said Giuliani’s freelance involvement in Venezuela is a product of Trump’s leadership style.

“Given that Trump in so many instances keeps his own counsel and is wary of the policymaking bureaucracy, (Giuliani’s) relationship with the president is currency,” Cardenas said. “It’s very hard for a secretary of State or national security adviser or a secretary of Defense to say, ‘you really need to cut Giuliani off at the knees.’ Donald Trump is what he is. He believes he got where he is by following his own counsel.”

Cárdenas said any further overtures from Giuliani regarding Venezuela will hurt the Trump administration’s anti-Maduro messaging and sanctions efforts.

“I think he’s only going to result in causing problems for the administration,” Cardenas said. “Any administration has very defined processes for developing policy towards international hot spots. It can ill-afford to have a freelancer hopping around.”

———

©2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Foreign Affairs

November 19, 2021
by Tom Ramstack
Congress Seeks to Regain Influence in United Nations

WASHINGTON — A top State Department official continued the Biden administration’s theme of “We’re back” during a congressional hearing Thursday... Read More

WASHINGTON — A top State Department official continued the Biden administration’s theme of “We’re back” during a congressional hearing Thursday on the United States’ role in the United Nations. The State Department is trying to regain leadership positions that suffered setbacks during the go-it-alone international policies... Read More

Differences Endure as Biden Brings Back North America Summit

WASHINGTON (AP) — North America's leaders are reviving three-way summitry after a Trump-era break. As President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — North America's leaders are reviving three-way summitry after a Trump-era break. As President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador resume the tradition of the North America Leaders' Summit on Thursday, the three allies face deep... Read More

November 2, 2021
by Reece Nations
Bipartisan Senate Legislation Aims to Prevent Foreign Extortion

WASHINGTON — Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., announced the introduction of legislation to the Senate on Tuesday... Read More

WASHINGTON — Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., announced the introduction of legislation to the Senate on Tuesday that would criminalize bribery demands by foreign officials. Although bribery is considered criminal activity under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, current law only punishes... Read More

Biden Tells Macron US 'Clumsy' in Australian Submarine Deal

ROME (AP) — Working to patch things up with an old ally, President Joe Biden told French President Emmanuel Macron... Read More

ROME (AP) — Working to patch things up with an old ally, President Joe Biden told French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday that the U.S. had been "clumsy" in its handling of a secret U.S.-British submarine deal with Australia, an arrangement that left France in the... Read More

October 22, 2021
by Dan McCue
Vice President Harris to Meet With Macron During Paris Visit

WASHINGTON - Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in November in the administration’s latest attempt... Read More

WASHINGTON - Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in November in the administration’s latest attempt to repair the diplomatic damage caused by a botched submarine agreement. The White House announced Friday that Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff will be in... Read More

October 21, 2021
by TWN Staff
Government Unveils Suite of Analyses on Climate Change

Several federal agencies representing the core of the executive branch’s national security and foreign policy apparatus, are releasing a suite... Read More

Several federal agencies representing the core of the executive branch’s national security and foreign policy apparatus, are releasing a suite of reports on the impact of climate change at home and abroad, and particularly on how to deal with the refugees a changing world climate is... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top