US security team, military officials meet about Venezuela

Members of President Donald Trump’s national security team and military officials met Friday morning at the Pentagon to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood met in the “tank,” a secure meeting space inside the Pentagon reserved for senior leaders to discuss sensitive issues and military operations.

Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon Friday that the meeting was held in part to provide the attendees a briefing from Adm. Craig Faller, the head of US Southern Command, which oversees US military operations in South America.

“This was really a true review and then making sure that we’re all in alignment,” Shanahan said, adding “we have a comprehensive set of options tailored to certain conditions and I’m just going to maybe leave it at that.”

Asked if those options could include direct military action, Shanahan responded: “I’ll leave that to your imagination. We have all options are on the table.”

When asked specifically about whether the US would deploy warships and possibly even an aircraft carrier to the region as part of its response, a move seemingly endorsed by Sen. Lindsey Graham in a tweet on Friday, Shanahan would not get into specifics but said, “All options are comprehensive but there is a lot of water nearby.”

The Trump administration hasn’t ruled out the possibility of US military action in Venezuela. On Wednesday, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that the US military was “prepared to support the President should he require more from” them. However, the top US military commander for US forces in Central and South America suggested that he did not see a role for the armed forces in the conflict over Venezuela’s disputed leadership.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is looking for ways to financially bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by the US as the country’s interim president, with an influx of cash, which could involve freeing up frozen assets or loans.

Earlier this week, Guaido led a street-level uprising aimed at toppling President Nicholas Maduro. The uprising faltered, having apparently failed to gain the support of senior members of the Venezuelan military.

Asked if the US suffered from poor intelligence about the situation on the ground in Venezuela, Shanahan said that he is confident in the information that the US government has.

“I feel very confident in the quality and accuracy of the information that we’re getting,” Shanahan said, adding, “I don’t feel we have an intelligence gap, I think we have very good reporting.”

When asked to assess the capability of Maduro’s military forces, Shanahan responded that “they’re not comparable to the United States, that’s for certain.”

“Maduro is an illegitimate regime and presumably the good people in the military will make the right decision about the future of Venezuela, that’s what’s important,” he added.

Earlier on Friday, the White House said that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken on the phone about the situation in Venezuela.

“The President’s primary focus throughout the call was about helping the people of Venezuela, making it clear that the United States stands with the people of Venezuela and the importance of making sure those individuals are able to get the food and the water and the medical supplies that is needed,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told press during a gaggle. “The President reiterated that sentiment several times throughout the call.”

Sanders was also asked about whether the President made any progress on getting Putin to step off of supporting Maduro.

“The President reiterated the need for a peaceful transition and his focus throughout the conversation was on the need to help the people and make sure that the aid was actually getting to them and being delivered,” she said.

CNN Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.