Hatch, Trump say American held in Venezuela returning to US

Hatch, Trump say American held in Venezuela returning to US
© Greg Nash

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google MORE (R-Utah) said on Saturday that he had secured the release of a Utah man who has been held prisoner in Venezuela for two years. President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE indicated that the man would be welcomed at the White House.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Hatch's office said that Joshua Holt and his wife, Thamy Holt, were en route to Washington from Caracas, and that he would soon be returned to his family. 

"Over the last two years I've worked with two Presidential administrations, countless diplomatic contacts, ambassadors from all over the world, a network of contacts in Venezuela, and President Maduro himself, and I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton," Hatch said.

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Hatch also thanked Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Friday in Caracas. 

Hatch was a vocal advocate for Holt's release. His office said on Saturday that the senator had been on the phone with Maduro in recent weeks as he sought to secure Holt's release.

In a tweet, Trump said that the "hostage" would make an appearance at the White House on Saturday night with his family. 

"Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela. Should be landing in D.C. this evening and be in the White House, with his family, at about 7:00 P.M.," Trump tweeted. "The great people of Utah will be very happy!"

A White House spokesman did not immediately return The Hill's request for comment on Holt's release.

In a second tweet about an hour after his initial announcement, Trump declared that Utahans were "celebrating" Holt's return, and that he was looking forward to the man's arrival at the White House. 

"Looking forward to seeing Joshua Holt this evening in the White House," Trump tweeted. "The great people of Utah are Celebrating!"

Holt's return came days after he pleaded for help in a cellphone video recorded in a Caracas prison. 

"I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things, but I’m still here," Holt, 26, said in the video, which was posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

The Utah man was jailed in 2016 when he traveled to Venezuela to marry his wife, whom he had met online. Venezuelan authorities accused him of stockpiling weapons and conspiring with Los Sindicalistas, a Venezuelan paramilitary gang.

Holt's release also came weeks after North Korea freed three American prisoners during a brief visit to the country by Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to label white supremacist group as terrorist organization for first time Trump administration eyes Afghan security forces funding for aid cut: report Trump says 40,000 Americans have been repatriated who were stranded abroad MORE.

The U.S. has stepped up sanctions against Venezuela recently in an effort to put pressure on Maduro's government. The Venezuelan president won reelection last week in a contest widely regarded by the country's political opposition and Washington as a sham. 

— Updated at 1:16 p.m.