Omar, Trump envoy Elliott Abrams clash in fiery exchange

Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Undocumented aliens should stay away as COVID-19 rages in the US The Southern Poverty Law Center and yesterday's wars 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.

"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 Reagan 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 Reagan 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."

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 TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report 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.