U.S. denies involvement in alleged Venezuela invasion attempt as details remain murky
But details remained scarce as the two countries traded accusations but offered little new information about the mysterious mission.
The incident added to more than a year of growing tensions as the administration, accusing President Nicolás Maduro of human rights abuses, corruption and narcotics trafficking, has tried to force him from office with economic sanctions and criminal indictments.
Asked what the Trump administration was doing to free the two men, Pompeo said that “if in fact, these are Americans that are there … we’ll use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.”
Earlier, President Trump said the incident “has nothing to do with our government,” and the State Department cited privacy considerations in declining to comment on the reported arrests.
Venezuela’s foreign minister said Tuesday that the two men were “confessing without any reservations.” He did not describe what the men had told authorities about the operation, which Maduro described as an assassination plot.
“There is a major disinformation campaign underway by the Maduro regime, making it difficult to separate facts from propaganda,” the State Department responded in a statement.
A U.S. Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz, said service records confirm that the two captured Americans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman, are Special Forces veterans, as is Jordan Goudreau, the head of a Florida security services company who first announced the operation in a video Sunday morning.
Goudreau, in an interview with The Washington Post, said Berry and Denman were “supervisors” of a force he said numbered about 60 Venezuelans. Most, if not all of them, were believed to be military and police defectors living in camps in Colombia, near the Venezuelan border.
Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan legislator and opposition leader recognized as interim president by the United States and more than 50 other countries, lashed out Tuesday at Maduro for staging what he called a “massacre.”
“They knew about this and were waiting to massacre them,” Guaidó said in a virtual session of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. “Nicolás Maduro, you are responsible. The regime knew about that operation, you infiltrated it and waited to massacre them.”
The CIA declined to comment.
The State Department statement, which described the unfolding situation as a “melodrama,” said officials would be “looking closely into the role of the Maduro regime . . . and especially of the very large Cuban intelligence apparatus in Venezuela.”
“The record of falsehoods and manipulation by Maduro and his accomplices, as well as their highly questionable representation of the details, argues that nothing should be taken at face value when we see the distorting of facts,” the statement said.
“What is clear is that the former regime is using the event to justify an increased level of repression,” the statement said. Noting “the timing of these events,” the statement said that 46 prisoners were killed, and 74 injured, in a “massacre” by government forces at Los Llanos prison in Venezuela over the weekend.
Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, told The Post that the U.S. government had yet to make contact with the Venezuelan government after Maduro’s Monday evening announcement of the arrest of the two Americans.
“They have already had many hours to develop their ‘it wasn’t me’ strategy,” Arreaza said in a text-message exchange. He said the two were being questioned by Venezuelan authorities and were “confessing without any reservations.”
Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro’s communications chief, alleged at a news conference in Caracas that Goudreau and Trump are connected.
“How is it that the Secret Service of the United States hired Silvercorp to handle Trump’s security and that Silvercorp publishes that on its website?” he asked.
The alleged connection appeared to refer to a relationship between Goudreau — who operates a Florida company, Silvercorp, that says it offers paid strategic security services — and former Trump security chief Keith Schiller.
In his Sunday video, Goudreau and former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto Quintero said what they called “Operation Gideon” was designed to capture senior members of Maduro’s government. They called on Venezuelan military forces to rise up and join the invaders.