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Maduro presents video confession by captured American

Luke Denman, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, in an image taken from video. (From the YouTube page of President Nicolás Maduro)

A captured American citizen, appearing in a video broadcast on Venezuelan television Wednesday, said he helped train and accompanied a small force that attempted to invade the country by sea this past weekend.

The video of Luke Denman, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, was shown during a lengthy news conference held by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Denman appeared weary but spoke calmly in English in response to queries from an unseen questioner, and it was not possible to determine whether he was under direct duress.

Although few Venezuelans were likely to have seen Maduro’s presentation, which took place during an electricity outage, he attempted to ratchet up the tension with the United States by saying it was impossible to believe that President Trump had known nothing about the failed operation.

Senior Trump administration officials Wednesday repeated strong denials that they supported or were even aware of the plan. “There was no United States government direct involvement,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news conference.

Administration policy includes efforts to turn Venezuelan security forces against Maduro, and Trump has repeatedly said that “all options are on the table” to force him to step aside.

But Pompeo and others likened the failed effort to a farce and said that U.S. government participation would have ensured success.

“If this were indeed a U.S.-led capture operation, as Maduro alleges, he would be undergoing arraignment in the Southern District of New York this week,” said one senior official, who dismissed Maduro’s allegations as “almost comical.”

The official described the self-proclaimed organizer of the operation, Florida security company head Jordan Goudreau, as a “con artist” who was not to be believed. Goudreau’s decision to proceed with the plan, after it was likely that Venezuelan security was aware of it, was “mind-boggling,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to expand on publicly released statements.

Goudreau, a former Green Beret, enlisted Denman and another Special Operations veteran, Airan Berry, to train and “supervise” the incursion force of Venezuelan military defectors living in Colombia. Goudreau has told The Washington Post that he was acting on the basis of a contract signed by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other nations as the country’s legitimate president, and other deputized opposition figures in Miami. He has said that the Trump administration was aware of his activities.

The leader of the Miami opposition team has acknowledged preliminary discussions with Goudreau but said all dealings with him were ended in the fall. Opposition representatives said they were astounded when Goudreau appeared in an online video Sunday, accompanied by a defected Venezuelan general, to announce that an operation to capture Maduro had been launched.

According to Denman, in the Maduro-presented video, he was involved in training a force of about 50 to 60 in Riohacha, a northeastern Colombian town near the Venezuelan border.

He said uniforms and weapons were supplied by Goudreau. “The only instructions that I received from Jordan was that to ensure we took control of the airport for safe passage for Maduro and receiving airplanes.” He said the plan was for Maduro to be captured and flown to the United States.

Denman and Berry were part of a group of eight arrested by Venezuelan security forces Monday morning, as they approached the rocky coastline in a small boat, not far from Venezuela’s international airport. Others said to be separately interdicted were said to be arrested or killed.

Maduro later brandished what he said were Denman’s and Berry’s passports and identification badges from Goudreau’s company, Silvercorp, that he said had been found on them.

Maduro said Wednesday that both Americans had “confessed, and we will ensure that justice is done and the truth surfaces.”

Asked what the Trump administration was doing to free the two men, Pompeo said that “if in fact, these are Americans that are there . . . we’ll use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.”

In addition to declaring that Maduro is not the legitimate president of Venezuela, the United States indicted him on narcotrafficking and corruption charges earlier this year and offered a $15 million reward for his capture and conviction.