Human rights advocates have been up in arms over Abrams' appointment to the post because of his checkered past in Latin America.
Democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar came out swinging at Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing as she challenged the credibility of President Donald Trump's special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.
Abrams, who served in foreign policy posts under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, appeared before the committee to answer questions from members of Congress on US policy toward Venezuela amid the ongoing crisis there. He was appointed after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself acting president on January 23, a move supported by the US and many European and Latin American countries.
Human rights advocates have been up in arms over Abrams' appointment to the post because of his checkered past.
Abrams was convicted in 1991 of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, in which US officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran and funnelled the money to rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist government.
He was pardoned by President George HW Bush.
“I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” Omar said, referring to his conviction.
“If I could respond to that ... ” Abrams said.
“That was not a question,” Omar said, cutting him off.
Omar then discussed US support for anti-communists in Central America during the Cold War and cited Abrams' initial dismissal of reports of the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador as left-wing propaganda.
During that time, Abrams also came under heavy fire for ignoring reports about US-funded death squads that massacred thousands in El Salvador.
Abrams was assistant secretary of state for human rights and assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.
"Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they serve the US interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua?" Omar asked.
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy,” Abrams said. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar responded: “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”
“That’s a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it,” Abrams said, visibly agitated.
“Yes or no?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Democratic lawmakers said Congress would oppose US military intervention in Venezuela.
The Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, expressed concern about Trump's hints that military action was an option in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is under intense international pressure to step aside and the country's economy is in chaos.
"I do worry about the president's sabre-rattling, his hints that US military intervention remains an option. I want to make clear to our witnesses and to anyone else watching: US military intervention is not an option," Engel told a hearing on the OPEC nation.
The head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaido, invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro's re-election last year was a sham.
Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognised Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate head of state, but Maduro's socialist government retains the backing of Russia and China, as well as control of state institutions including the military.
Under US law, Congress, not the president, must approve foreign military action.
"Does the interests of the US include protecting human rights and include protecting people against genocide?"— TRT World (@trtworld) February 14, 2019
US congresswoman Ilhan Omar challenges the credibility of President Donald Trump's special envoy to Venezuela pic.twitter.com/IIVoo4o2kn