Trump administration secretly contacted top Venezuelan socialist boss: report

Trump administration secretly contacted top Venezuelan socialist boss: report
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The Trump administration secretly contacted the boss of Venezuela's socialist party, The Associated Press reported Monday, as members of President Nicolás Maduro's administration seek guarantees of not being prosecuted if they remove the embattled leader.

Diosdado Cabello met last month in Caracas with an intermediary in close contact with the Trump administration, a senior official told the AP.

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Cabello is considered the second most powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, the news service noted, adding that a second meeting with the party boss is in the works.

The 56-year-old has reportedly seen his influence expand while Maduro’s grip on power has weakened. Cabello has also been accused of being behind massive corruption and drug trafficking, the AP noted.

The Trump administration official told the news service that negotiations are not meant to prop up Cabello or pave the way for him to take Maduro's place.

Instead, the meetings are reportedly an effort to ratchet up infighting within Maduro's circle in hopes of displacing the president whom the U.S. has long opposed.

The official added that contacts exist with other top Venezuelan insiders.

Meeting with Venezuelan officials marks another escalation of the Trump administration's efforts to remove Maduro from office.

The U.S. in January recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president.

The opposition has yet to successfully topple Maduro, despite U.S. backing that has included stringent sanctions on Venezuela.