In a purported interrogation video released Wednesday by the Venezuelan government, one of the two former U.S. service members detained earlier this week in Venezuela acknowledged plans to help carry out a coup. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro revealed the video at a televised address in the capital, Caracas.
The mission was "to meet Venezuelans in Colombia, train them and come with them to Venezuela to secure Caracas and secure an airport here for follow-on," Luke Denman said in the video, which purported to show the U.S. Army Special Forces veteran confessing about an operation by which he and his associates hoped to oust the embattled Venezuelan leader and force him onto a plane to the U.S.
There were several clear edits over the course of the roughly 10-minute video. NPR has not independently confirmed its authenticity.
"I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country," said Denman, whose capture by Venezuelan authorities, along with Airan Berry, was announced Monday. Both men served in the Army's Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, and Denman deployed to Iraq as a Special Forces communications sergeant a decade ago.
The pair, who have both been out of the service for about six years, stand at the heart of an almost surreal saga that has unfolded in Venezuela over the past several days — and they are both connected with Jordan Goudreau, another former member of the special forces who runs a Florida-based private security firm under the name of SilverCorp USA.
Goudreau announced the "daring amphibious raid" in a recorded message posted Sunday evening. "Our men are continuing to fight right now," he said in the video, flanked by former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto Quintero. "Our units have been activated in the south, west and east of Venezuela."
Venezuelan security forces quickly stifled the operation — which set out from Colombia with dozens of Venezuelan military deserters participating, according to Denman. Maduro's government says Venezuelan forces confronted the perpetrators after they tried to land in speedboats on a beach about an hour north of Caracas, and killed at least six of the "mercenaries" and "terrorists."
Amid the fallout, authorities also captured the two Americans. Denman said in the video that he expected to earn up to $100,000 for his role in training and guiding the rebels in a country he had never visited before. Asked in the video who commands Goudreau, Denman answered: "President Donald Trump."
"There was no U.S. Government direct involvement in this operation," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flatly told reporters at a briefing shortly before Maduro's speech. "If we had been involved, it would have gone differently. As for who bankrolled it, we're not prepared to share any more information about what we know took place. We'll unpack that at an appropriate time."
He said the U.S. government will seek a "path forward" in obtaining Denman and Berry's release.
"We want to get every American back," Pompeo said Wednesday. "If the Maduro regime decides to hold them, we'll use every tool that we have available to try and get them back. It's our responsibility to do so."
There is no love lost between Maduro's government in Venezuela and the Trump administration, which has made repeated — and openly public — efforts to try to punish the Socialist strongman's conduct and encourage his ouster. Washington recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate leader, and federal officials have slapped Maduro and more than a dozen current and former regime officials with severe sanctions and drug trafficking charges.
The U.S. government has offered a $15 million reward for Maduro's capture.
Still, the embattled Venezuelan leader's grasp on power has survived years of foreign pressure, domestic unrest and economic upheaval. And he asserted that the U.S. president is directly behind the failed attack that he likened to the Bay of Pigs, the notorious failed invasion of Cuba backed by the U.S. in 1961.
"There's the proof," Maduro said Wednesday, gesturing to Denman's interrogation video. "And there will be more."