Giuliani held phone call with Maduro amid Venezuela crisis

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiParnas says he has turned over tape of Trump calling for diplomat's firing Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map ABC: Recording apparently captures Trump discussing Yovanovitch ouster with Parnas, Fruman MORE was on a phone call with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last September, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. 

Giuliani was on the call along with then-Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden Giuliani held phone call with Maduro amid Venezuela crisis Texas GOP rep predicts heavy Democratic presence in state ahead of 2020 MORE (R-Texas) as part of a diplomatic effort to ease Maduro from power. Sessions spokesperson Matt Mackowiak confirmed to The Hill on Sunday that the call took place. It was first reported by The Washington Post.

The development comes as Giuliani has emerged as a key figure in Trump’s alleged solicitation of foreign interference from Ukraine in the 2020 election, the central allegation in his impeachment. Giuliani appears to have again used his private role to play a part in foreign policy with regard to Venezuela. 

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White House officials did not know why Giuliani was involved on the call with Maduro upon finding out, one former senior administration official told the Post. 

“We didn’t know why Rudy was involved at the time,” the person told the Post. 

A White House spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. Giuliani did not respond to the Post's request for comment. 

Trump had vowed to take a stand against Maduro when he took office. Maduro won with nearly 68 percent of the vote, but his reelection in May was largely rejected by the international community over allegations of fraud and banning of opposition parties.  

In January, the U.S. formally recognized Maduro’s rival Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela. 

Sessions was part of the back-channel effort to ease Maduro from power and accepted an invitation from Maduro to visit Caracas to try to negotiate a path to improved relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, the Post reported. 

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“He was pleased to help with this back-channel mission, which was coordinated with the highest levels of the U.S. State Department,” Mackowiak told the Post. He added that Sessions met with top U.S. officials before and after his trip.

People familiar with the State Department officials' roles, however, told the Post those officials did not initiate the trip or organize or participate in Sessions's meeting with Maduro. Several U.S. officials also disputed that Sessions's trip was sanctioned, according to the Post. 

“There was absolutely no interest or appetite for negotiations,” a former White House official told the Post. “We generally did not welcome efforts like this one. It wasn’t consistent with our policy goals. We saw it as a nuisance and a distraction.”

Sessions left Caracas with a list of concessions Maduro had agreed to, Mackowiak told the Post. The September 2018 call with Giuliani was reportedly a follow-up from the meeting.

Giuliani was introduced at the start of the call but was mostly quiet during the conversation, Mackowiak told the post. 

Sessions lost his seat in last year’s elections and is running for a different Texas congressional district next year.