Lindsey Graham: Trump Discussed Military Option in Venezuela, Is 'Really Hawkish' on Caracas

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has revealed President Donald Trump considered a military intervention in Venezuela in an effort to force the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, from power.

Speaking with Axios on Sunday, the South Carolina lawmaker—a close ally of Trump and one of his most prominent foreign policy advisors—said the president remains "really hawkish" on Venezuela, as Washington formulates its plan to support the country's emboldened anti-Maduro opposition.

Graham said Trump was discussing a military solution to the Venezuela crisis as recently as two weeks ago. Since then, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly—Juan Guaido—has declared himself interim president and called on Venezuelans—including the military—to abandon Maduro and support him instead.

The U.S. is leading a host of nations in support of Guaido, with Trump the first foreign leader to recognize the 35-year-old as Venezuela's legitimate leader.

Recalling his conversations with Trump, Graham explained, "[Trump] said, 'What do you think about using military force?' and I said, 'Well, you need to go slow on that, that could be problematic.' And he said, 'Well, I'm surprised, you want to invade everybody.'"

Graham is considered one of the more prominent Republican hawks in Washington, and has reportedly pressured Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan, while taking a harder line with Iran and North Korea.

"I said, 'I don't want to invade everybody, I only want to use the military when our national security interests are threatened,'" Graham continued.

The U.S. has thus far refrained from using direct military action to apply pressure to Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in as president in 2013. Maduro has accused the U.S. of leading an "economic war" against his country with the cooperation of other regional powers, and has described Washington's support of Guaido as a "desperate act."

Trump's administration has introduced new sanctions on Venezuela and key regime officials. Further U.S. pressure is likely to expand on these measures as Guaido attempts to gather his international and domestic support base.

The country is in the grips of a long-lasting economic crisis that has left its currency near worthless, sent unemployment figures skyrocketing and created a humanitarian crisis as refugees flee to neighboring nations.

The president has reportedly considered military action in the past. In 2016 he shocked senior aides, including former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by asking why America could not simply invade Venezuela to topple Maduro.

His military musings continued for some time after, and Trump reportedly even raised the prospect of military action with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other world leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

McMaster and others were eventually able to walk the president back from serious consideration of the plan. But with the departures of senior officials considered moderating influences on the president's more bellicose foreign policy ideas—such as McMaster, Tillerson and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis—it is unclear how much opposition remains within Trump's inner circle.

Donald Trump Venezuela Nicolas Maduro Lindsey Graham
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 25, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images