The Trump administration held secret talks with Venezuelan military officers plotting a coup against President Nicolás Maduro last year, including one commander on a U.S. blacklist of corrupt officials, The New York Times reports. Several current and former American officials and a Venezuelan commander confirmed the secret back-channel to the Times, saying a series of clandestine meetings were held overseas between Venezuelan military officers and representatives of the U.S. government. A former Venezuelan commander who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Times that President Trump’s declaration of a “military option” in Venezuela at the height of unrest last year was seen as a green light by the country’s rebelling military groups. “It was the commander in chief saying this now. I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger,” he was quoted as saying. The covert discussions were reportedly initiated by Venezuelan military officers, one of whom is said to have gone to the U.S. Embassy in a European capital to seek American advice in overthrowing Maduro. The Venezuelan officers reportedly sought material aid from the U.S. side, though the U.S. did not provide such assistance and the secret meetings ultimately fell apart after dozens of coup plotters were arrested. In a statement to the Times, the White House acknowledged “dialogue with all Venezuelans” but declined to offer any specific comment on the secret meetings.
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