While eyebrows are being raised about President Donald Trump's meetings with mega-donors to his inaugural committee, it seems another meeting is causing controversy.
The Miami Herald reported Thursday that Trump held secret meetings at Mar-a-Lago with former presidents of Colombia, which, they explained, could cause "an ugly power struggle in Latin America."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is assumed to be urging Trump to approve a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia when he meets with Trump in May. Former President Barack Obama had promised $450 million in aid to help end the ongoing armed conflict, but it's unclear if Trump or Congress will support the promise.
Trump met with former presidents, Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana, which was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who doesn't support Obama's efforts to end the conflict. Rubio's wife is Colombian and he agrees with many who believe they shouldn't negotiate with a militant group known for drug trafficking and kidnappings.
Colombian media was flooded with speculation on if the meeting was real and press secretary Sean Spicer wasn't willing to give any information when asked. Ultimately, the White House was forced to confirm the meeting to McClatchy but claimed it wasn't significant and nothing more than a coincidence the two former presidents were at Trump's club.
“They were there with a member from the club and briefly said hello when the president walked past them,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained. “There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello.”
The two presidents don't back that statement up.
After the meeting, Pastrana took to Twitter to thank Trump for a “cordial and very frank conversation” about problems in Colombia and Latin America.
According to his former vice president, Francisco Santos, Pastrana expressed concerns about what was happening in Venezuela and Colombia and "damage they say the peace process has caused," The Herald said.
“We’re very worried,” said Santos. “You have a perfect storm, and the government says everything is going fine and we’re living in peace. And that’s not true.”
Uribe released a letter he sent to Trump claiming President Santos' work to pass a peace deal with the rebels might lead to Colombia becoming a dictatorial country similar to Venezuela.
If it is true that the men were brought by a member, it means someone paid $200,000 anticipating they could attempt to influence Trump without any form of public disclosure.
“It suggests that the people who patronize the president’s businesses have more influence than the rest of us,” executive director Noah Bookbinder of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington explained.
The White House would not reveal the member that brought the leaders to the club and the names of members are not public nor are visitor logs to Mar-a-Lago.
The peace plan has taken years of negotiations after 50 years of violent combat with the FARC. Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to achieve the deal.
Santos has described Trump's politics as "not in line with what Colombia wants."
Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, called it dangerous for the former presidents to come to the United States. He think sit could damage the bipartisan support
Trump's proposed budget will slash funding for foreign aid by nearly one-third.