Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) got into a heated back and forth on Wednesday with special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, accusing the diplomat of being a liar and pressing him on his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair and killings in Central America during the Reagan administration.
“I don’t understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” Omar said.
In 1991, Abrams was indicted by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for giving false testimony before Congress in 1987 about his role in illicitly raising money for the Nicaraguan Contras. He pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses of withholding evidence from Congress in order to avoid a trial and a possible jail term.
“It was an attack,” Abrams responded.
Omar continued, pressing Abrams repeatedly on U.S. involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador during the Regan administration when the U.S. backed the Salvadoran military and Nicaraguan insurgents. Abrams served at the time as assistant secretary of State.
Omar questioned Abrams about his past comments on the El Mozote massacre, where the Salvadoran military killed hundreds of civilians.
In particular, Omar pressed Abrams about whether he was still proud of dismissing accurate reports about the El Mozote massacre, where the Salvadoran military killed hundreds of civilians in the 1980s.
“More than 800 civilians, including children as young as two years old, were brutally murdered,” Omar told him. “During that massacre, some of those troops bragged about raping a 12-year-old girl before they killed her. You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement.’ Do you still think so?”
A visibly upset Abrams noted that El Salvador has been a democracy for decades since the Reagan administration, calling it a “fabulous achievement.”
“Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement?” Omar asked.
“That is a ridiculous question,” Abrams replied sharply. “I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question.”
The freshman Democrat challenged him on U.S. policy in Central America during his time in the Regan administration.
“I am not going to respond to that question,” he said. “I’m sorry. I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, and so I will not reply.”
Omar also asked if Abrams will ensure that human rights are upheld in Venezuela under U.S. policy.
“The answer is that the entire thrust of American policy in Venezuela is to support the Venezuelan people’s effort to restore democracy to their country,” he said. “That’s our policy.”
Asked if that included protecting human rights, Abrams said “that is always the position of the United States.”
,@IlhanMN “In 1991 you pleaded guilty … regarding your involvement in Iran-Contra … I fail to understand why [we] should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful”
Elliott Abrams “That was attack. It is not right .. to attack witness who is not permitted to reply” pic.twitter.com/yQq3xYHGxm
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) February 13, 2019
The Hill notes:
Abrams was named the special envoy to Venezuela last month, shortly after the Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president. The move came as part of an increasing effort to pressure embattled President Nicolás Maduro amid an economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.