Surrounded by his top military aides in a White House meeting less than a year ago, the Associated Press on Wednesday reports that President Donald Trump wanted to know why the U.S. military couldn’t “just simply invade” the country of Venezuela.
Based on the account of “a senior administration official familiar with what was said,” AP reports that the president’s comments “stunned” those at the meeting, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have now left the administration.
In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.
While some of those around him continued attempts to ignore or dissuade the president, reportedly Trump could not let the idea go and AP cites “two high-ranking Colombian officials” who confirmed that he brought the idea of a military overthrow up with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during a closed-door meeting in August of 2017.
A month later, during a dinner with other Latin American leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, the reporting says that Trump—despite warnings not to do so—once more brought up the subject.
“The U.S. official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and told it wouldn’t play well,” AP reports, “but the first thing the president said at the dinner was, ‘My staff told me not to say this.’ Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure. Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said.”