Omar, Trump envoy Elliott Abrams clash in fiery exchange

 thehill.com  02/13/2019 19:29:19  2

Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarPence rips Omar's 'inadequate' apology for tweets criticized as anti-Semitic Webb: Presidential hopefuls underline Democrats’ strong leftward drift Rep. Steve King pushes GOP to reinstate his committee assignments MORE (D-Minn.) engaged in a testy 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.

,@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

"I don’t understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful," she said in her initial comments to Abrams, who pleaded guilty to withholding evidence from Congress in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s.

Abrams tried to interject, but Omar said she was not asking a question.

"It was an attack," Abrams responded.

Omar pressed 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 specifically questioned Abrams about his past comments on the El Mozote massacre, where the Salvadoran military killed hundreds of civilians. 

"You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a fabulous achievement. Do you still think so?" Omar asked.

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."

Abrams continued to push back as 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 finally got Abrams to respond to a question when she 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 on Elliott Abrams' role in Iran-Contra: "I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful."(Abrams gets mad)

Omar: "That was not a question. Thank you for your participation." pic.twitter.com/QBagSpOQXs

— Frank Dale (@fwdale) February 13, 2019

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.

Wednesday's contentious exchange was the latest high-profile moment for Omar in what has been a trying week for the freshman lawmaker. She came under bipartisan scrutiny after she sent multiple tweets on Sunday that were criticized as anti-Semitic for suggesting that lawmakers supported Israel for financial reasons.

Omar apologized, but has continued to receive criticism from President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchultz won't say if he will sell all Starbucks shares if he becomes president Sarah Sanders cites El Chapo in push for border security Pence rips Omar's 'inadequate' apology for tweets criticized as anti-Semitic MORE and other Republicans.

Omar's exchange with Abrams at Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Trump administration's policy in Venezuela opened a bit awkwardly.

The Minnesota Democrat referred to Abrams as "Mr. Adams," then cited his 1991 guilty plea to withholding information from Congress in the investigation into the Iran-Contra affair.

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