For background, Abrams is a well-known neoconservative who served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. In 1991, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress related to U.S. efforts to arm rebels in Nicaragua. A lame-duck George H.W. Bush pardoned him in 1992, before leaving office. Abrams-led efforts in Latin America have long been decried by human rights activists, so he was a natural target for Democrats on Wednesday.
Omar wasted no time. She began by saying that in light of Abrams’s guilty pleas, “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.”
Abrams asked to respond, but Omar told him it wasn’t a question. “It was an attack,” Abrams shot back.
“Yes or no: Do you still think so?” she asked.
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election,” Abrams said, referring to Jose Napoleon Duarte’s election as president in 1984, “to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar responded: “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?"
Abrams: “That is a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it. ... I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman, I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question."
Omar proceeded to ask whether Abrams would support an armed insurrection in Venezuela that engaged in war crimes or genocide if it served U.S. interests, “as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.”
Abrams again declined to respond to the questions, at which point Omar argued that it was fair given how important it was to uphold human rights in situations such as Venezuela. In that country, the United States has recognized a new president as legitimate and the Trump administration has even left open the idea of an intervention against Nicolás Maduro, who is clinging to power.
“I suppose there is a question in there,” Abrams said wryly, before assuring her that human rights are an important U.S. goal.
The clash was the kind of thing you rarely see in congressional hearings, even from the most liberal members. Abrams was uniquely susceptible to this kind of treatment given his past, yes, but Omar made clear she’s not cowed by what happened Monday.
Through her response to President Trump and her questioning of Abrams on Wednesday, Omar seems to be going in another direction — one that suggests she’ll remain a provocative figure for months and years to come.