Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams got into a fiery exchange on Wednesday that began with her wondering why anything he said could be considered credible after his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Abrams testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the U.S. response to the crisis in Venezuela, which has collapsed under far-left policies that have decimated its economy and caused hyperinflation, starvation and medical shortages. The Trump administration is supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and said authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro must step down and leave the country.
Recent Stories in National Security
Omar opened her questioning by calling Abrams "Mr. Adams" and recounting Abrams' misdemeanor guilty pleas for withholding information from Congress over the Iran-Contra scandal while he worked in the Reagan administration. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
"I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful," Omar said.
Abrams sought to respond, but Omar said it wasn't a question as the two spoke over each other.
"It is not right that members of this committee can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply," Abrams said.
She went on to recount his 1982 congressional testimony about U.S. policy toward El Salvador, where as Assistant Secretary of State he said reports about the El Mozote massacre perpetrated by the Salvadoran Army weren't credible. Omar discussed the details of the massacre and quoted Abrams's remarks that U.S. policy there was a "fabulous achievement."
"Yes or no. Do you still think so?" she asked.
"From the day that President [José Napoleón] Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy," Abrams said. "That's a fabulous achievement."
"Yes or no. Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?" she asked.
"That is a ridiculous question, and—no!" Abrams said.
"I will take that as a yes," Omar said.
"I'm sorry, but I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question," Abrams said.
"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 U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?" Omar asked.
"I am not going to respond to that question. I'm sorry," Abrams said. "I don't think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, and so I will not reply."
Omar defended her line of questioning as fair, saying the American people wanted to know how U.S. goals are furthered in its foreign policy.
"Will you make sure that human rights are not violated and that we uphold international and human rights?" Omar asked.
"I suppose there is a question in there, and the answer is the entire thrust of American policy in Venezuela is to support the Venezuelan people's effort to restore democracy to their country. That's our policy," Abrams said.
Abrams, responding to a final question from Omar, affirmed the U.S. position is always to further human rights and protect against genocide in its foreign policy.
Omar has opposed Trump administration in Venezuela, speaking out against fresh sanctions leveled against Maduro last month. She's claimed Trump is backing a "far-right" "coup" by bolstering Guaido.
Abrams is a strong supporter of Israel, while Omar just apologized yet again this week for using anti-Semitic tropes, this time to attack pro-Israel politicians as being paid off by AIPAC, the lobbying organization. In the past she's also said Israel "hypnotized the world" and compared the country to Iran, the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.
In his opening statement, Abrams called on the armed forces to help Venezuela reclaim its legitimacy and no longer support the authoritarian Maduro.
"For those remaining supporters of the regime, we have one, simple message: Your time is up," Abrams said. "A new, free, and prosperous Venezuela will rise, and your fellow citizens will remember who stood by them in their struggle."
The Republican National Committee ripped Omar in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, calling her attacks on the longtime diplomat "un-American."
"In recent days the world has witnessed the support the U.S. has offered the Venezuelan people with the ultimate goal of restoring democracy in their country.," RNC Director and Spokesperson of Hispanic Media Yali Nuñez said. "For Rep. Ilhan Omar to attack the character of U.S Special Envoy to Venezuela, Mr. Elliott Abrams, a public servant and patriot is just simply un-American . In less than a week she has managed to offend both the Jewish and Hispanic communities in the U.S."
UPDATE: 10:36 P.M.: This article has been updated with a statement from the RNC.