An attendee holds a sign that reads “Hands Off Venezuela” with an illustration depicting U.S. President Donald Trump during a rally in support of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, not pictured, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg)

Pompeo Hires Former Trump Critic as Point Person on Venezuela

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tapped Elliott Abrams, a former White House official whose appointment as Rex Tillerson’s deputy was nixed because of his past criticisms of Donald Trump, to steer U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

In a surprise announcement Friday afternoon, Pompeo said Abrams would take the lead toward Venezuela now that the U.S. has recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the country’s interim leader and declared President Nicolas Maduro’s rule illegitimate. Abrams’s first assignment will be to join Pompeo in New York on Saturday for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Venezuela.

Abrams’ appointment was a surprise given his history with the current administration. A deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, he was critical of Trump as a candidate, suggesting he had little chance of winning and once writing that Trump needed to be reminded “of how many in the party oppose and even fear his nomination.” Abrams was also one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq war, which Trump denounced.

Comments and views like that were the reasons why the White House blocked Tillerson, Pompeo’s predecessor, when he tried to pick Abrams as his deputy early in 2017.

Abrams was also involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. He served as an assistant secretary of state overseeing Latin American affairs in the 1980s, later drawing criticism for his support of guerrillas fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. His conviction for lying to Congress was later pardoned -- in part thanks to advocacy from William Barr, Trump’s current nominee to be attorney general.

“I left this building 30 years ago this week -- last time I worked here -- so it’s very nice to be back,” Abrams said. “This crisis in Venezuela is deep and difficult and dangerous and I can’t wait to get to work on it.”

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