Congresswoman Ilhan Omar got into a fiery exchange with the U.S. Special Envoy to Venezuela at a House Foreign Affairs hearing Wednesday.
Elliott Abrams, who served in foreign policy posts under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to answer questions from members of Congress on U.S. policy toward Venezuela amid the ongoing crisis there.
Venezuela has been rocked by protests since Jan. 10, when President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.
Tensions rose when opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself acting president on Jan. 23 — a move supported by the U.S. and many European and Latin American countries.
“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 to Abrams.
Abrams interrupted, asking if he could reply to the comment, but Omar shot down his request.
“It wasn’t a question,” Omar said.
Omar proceeded to ask Abrams a series of questions on U.S. policy in Central America, to which Abrams said he would not respond.
Omar specifically referred to a massacre that took place in El Mozote, El Salvador where 800 civilians were killed at the hands of the Salvadoran Army, who were trained by the U.S.
“Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our [U.S.] watch?” Omar asked the special envoy.
“That is a ridiculous question and I will not respond to it,” Abrams replied.
Omar repeatedly pressured Abrams about the role of the U.S. in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the Reagan administration, insisting that Washington must think about the actions it takes when in other countries.
Abrams continued to reject the questions, saying they were an “attack” on him.
“Whether, under your watch, a genocide will take place and you will look the other way because American interests were being upheld is a fair question,” Omar said.
Abrams finally responded to a question on whether the U.S. was interested in protecting human rights in Venezuela, saying that “is always the position of the United States”.
Abrams was convicted in 1991 of two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, when U.S. officials facilitated the sale of arms to Iran to help support rebels trying to overthrow a leftist regime in Nicaragua. At the time, he was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration.
He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.