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

Blast in Lebanon’s Port Capped Deadly Game of Pass the Buck
Foreign Affairs
Blast in Lebanon’s Port Capped Deadly Game of Pass the Buck

The nearly 3,000 tons of highly flammable ammonium nitrate that caused last week’s disastrous explosion in Lebanon didn’t languish forgotten in the years after an alarm was first raised. A warning was sent to the Public Works Ministry the very day the Port of Beirut blew... Read More

Assessing U.S. Canadian Border Policy’s Future Effects
Foreign Affairs
Assessing U.S. Canadian Border Policy’s Future Effects
August 7, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON - Canada is not usually at the center of debate on U.S. immigration, but policy changes due to COVID-19 have atypically limited travel to Canada and affected the United States’ and Canada’s control of the movement of people and goods across their shared border in... Read More

Massive Beirut Blast Kills More Than 60, Injures Thousands
In The News
Massive Beirut Blast Kills More Than 60, Injures Thousands

BEIRUT (AP) — A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble,... Read More

UK’s Truss in Washington to Press for Post-Brexit Trade Deal
Trade
UK’s Truss in Washington to Press for Post-Brexit Trade Deal

U.K. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will meet with her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Monday as part of the third round of talks to reach a trade deal between the two countries. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put an agreement with the U.S. at... Read More

Trump Says He Never Raised Taliban Bounties in Talks With Putin
Geopolitics
Trump Says He Never Raised Taliban Bounties in Talks With Putin

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he hasn’t discussed reports that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite having numerous phone calls as recently as last week. “I have never discussed it with him,” Trump... Read More

Permanent Closings Possible as UK Arts Sector Faces Ongoing Crisis
Arts
Permanent Closings Possible as UK Arts Sector Faces Ongoing Crisis
July 28, 2020
by Sara Wilkerson

As the United Kingdom sets out its plan of guiding and supporting its arts industry amid the pandemic, the sector remains in a state of crisis as freelancers in the British theatre sector consider leaving the profession and theatres face the threat of permanent closures.  According... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top