President Joe Biden announced Monday his intention to nominate a former appointee under former President Donald Trump with a controversial past in Latin America to the bipartisan United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
Elliott Abrams, who has served in three Republican administrations, most recently acted as the Trump administration’s special envoy to Iran and Venezuela where he was tasked at the time with directing the campaign to replace Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
The Republican insider’s long history in foreign policy is marked by a 1991 guilty plea for withholding information about the Iran-Contra affair that earned him two misdemeanor counts, two years probation and 100 hours of community service – though his crimes were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.
The secret Iran-Contra operation, which took place during Abrams’ time as an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, involved the funding of anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua using the proceeds from weapon sales to Iran despite a congressional ban on such funding.
Again in his role under former President Ronald Reagan, Abrams was also blasted by a Human Rights Watch report for his attempts in a February 1982 Senate testimony to downplay reports of the massacre of 1,000 people by US-trained-and-equipped military units in the Salvadoran town of El Mozote in December 1981 – the largest mass killing in recent Latin American history. He insisted the numbers of reported victims were “implausible” and “lavished praise” on the military battalion behind the mass killings – stances he doubled down on when they were put on display during a 2019 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing by Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, who used his history in Latin American to call into question his credibility.
He later served as a senior director of the National Security Council and then as a deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser under former President George W. Bush. Abrams currently serves as senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He attended Harvard College, the London School of Economics and Harvard Law School and served under two former US senators.
The United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is a bipartisan body and does not allow for more than four of its seven members appointed by the president to be from any one political party, according to the State Department.
The commission “appraises the US Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics” and “may assemble and disseminate information and issue reports and other publications to the Secretary of State, the President, and the Congress,” according to the State Department.
Current members include Sim Farar, the managing member of JDF Investments Company; William Hybl, former special counsel to Reagan; and Anne Terman Wedner, a political organizer and former foreign service officer – four seats on the commission remained vacant as of March 2023, according to the National Archives.