Grenell Pursued Talks Over Change of Power in Venezuela

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WASHINGTON — Richard Grenell, a close Trump ally who has served numerous roles in the administration, quietly embarked on a pre-election mission last month that was at least partly intended to persuade President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela to give up power.

Mr. Grenell, a vocal and combative supporter of President Trump’s re-election campaign, met near Mexico City on Sept. 17 with Jorge Rodríguez, a former Venezuelan vice president and close ally of Mr. Maduro, to facilitate a peaceful transition of power, a White House official said.

Had Mr. Maduro agreed to stand down, it could have been a major foreign policy victory for Mr. Trump in the weeks before the election. But there is no evidence that Mr. Grenell’s trip had any effect, and it was not clear why Mr. Maduro, a socialist strongman who has maintained power despite international opposition, would suddenly consider stepping down.

The trip, which was reported by Bloomberg News on Wednesday night, caught the State Department and even some White House officials off guard and created confusion about its purpose.

In July, Mr. Trump traveled to Florida to reaffirm his opposition to Mr. Maduro and other socialist governments in Latin America. He accused his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., of supporting “pro-Communist policies” across Latin America in what was seen as an effort to shore up his faltering support among Latinos in the state.

One senior administration official said Mr. Grenell’s meeting with Mr. Rodriguez sidestepped established diplomatic channels to secure a foreign policy victory for the president before the election. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal discussions.

In the closing months of the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has sought to showcase his work on the international stage, including freeing American hostages in Yemen, sealing a landmark peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and promising to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also been seeking a new nuclear arms deal with Russia.

Mr. Grenell, who had served as Mr. Trump’s ambassador to Germany and the acting director of national intelligence, was involved in another recent effort to broker a major international deal. He was named special envoy for peace talks between Serbia and Kosovo late last year, even though the State Department already had a special envoy to the region.

His brash style and partisan background ruffled feathers among some of those he worked with in the roles.

Mr. Grenell’s trip to Mexico City surprised senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. At the State Department, officials scrambled to learn the details of the trip after being asked about it by reporters, with some worrying that it could confuse Mr. Guaidó about the American diplomacy and fuel concerns that the Trump administration was not forthcoming about its strategy.

It also revealed a divide between the White House and the State Department, where officials have long denied that the Trump administration was growing frustrated with Mr. Guaidó and the stalemate in Venezuela as Washington issued blistering economic sanctions against Mr. Maduro’s government and its loyalists.



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