In a July 2017 private briefing with intelligence officials, President Donald Trump apparently asked why the US wasn’t at war with Venezuela, noting that “they have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”
If true, it calls into question why the president has focused so intently on overthrowing the country’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, and if he plans to send troops in the future.
The claim comes in a surprisingly overlooked passage in a new book by Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director, who notoriously has a testy relationship with the president.
McCabe details what an FBI agent told him directly after briefing Trump. According to McCabe’s telling, the president reportedly derailed the meeting, which was supposed to be about Russian spies, by making unrelated comments about North Korea and other countries.
Then Trump brought up Venezuela: “That’s the country we should be going to war with,” Trump said, according to McCabe’s recounting. “They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”
McCabe expanded on this during a Tuesday night interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell: “The president’s remarks to the room were along the lines of ‘I don’t understand why we’re not looking at Venezuela. Why are we not at war with Venezuela?’”
There are a few things to note up front. First, this is not a first-hand account, as McCabe was not in the room with the president when he is supposed to have made this statement; rather, McCabe was told about it by another FBI agent person who was in the room at the time.
Second, it’s worth reiterating that McCabe has a longstanding beef with Trump. The president has publicly and repeatedly chastised Jill McCabe, Andrew’s wife, for receiving support from the Virginia Democratic Party and a PAC tied to a Hillary Clinton ally when she ran for a state Senate seat.
And McCabe certainly has had his own problems with the truth: The Justice Department’s inspector general found he had “lacked candor” on multiple occasions when asked by senior FBI officials about actions he took during the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him after the report’s release, mere hours before McCabe was set to retire.
But despite all that, McCabe’s claim rings true. Here’s why.
It sure seems like Trump wants a war with Venezuela
Trump has talked about war with Venezuela before.
In August 2017, Trump continuously asked his top advisers about a military option for overthrowing Maduro and quelling the growing political and economic crisis his mismanagement of that country has wrought, according to multiple reports.
H.R. McMaster, then Trump’s national security adviser, and others pushed back hard on Trump’s idea, explaining to him that an invasion was unlikely to work and that it would turn regional allies against the US.
That apparently didn’t deter Trump.
On August 11, 2017 — one day after he’d spoke with McMaster about this exact issue — Trump publicly threatened a “military option” for Venezuela while talking to reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. His comments, coming seemingly out of the blue, shocked pretty much everyone.
And Trump has talked about taking oil from other countries where the US military is deployed.
During the presidential campaign, Trump spoke repeatedly about seizing Iraq’s oil from areas controlled by ISIS. “It used to be to the victor belong the spoils,” he said on September 7, 2016. “One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is ISIS would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.”
Now, according to McCabe’s recounting, it doesn’t sound like Trump explicitly said anything about invading Venezuela solely to take its large oil reserves for America’s benefit during the July 2017 briefing. The FBI agent who told McCabe about the meeting almost certainly would’ve relayed that message if Trump had said that.
But it’s possible Trump had that in mind, the same way he’s had that thought about Iraq before. And asked to clarify, the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Trump administration keeps saying “all options are on the table” when it comes to Venezuela, meaning a military option is still feasible. While it’s unlikely, it sure seems that war with Venezuela has been on the president’s mind for years — and it may be because he wants the oil.