Sen. Menendez Asks DOJ to Investigate Former Rep. with Venezuelan Ties

May 19, 2020 Updated: May 19, 2020

The ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations asked the U. S. Department of Justice to investigate former Rep. David Rivera’s ties to the Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) Tuesday asked the assistant Attorney General,  John C. Demers to ascertain if Rivera should have been required to have been registered as an agent of Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

Rivera was sued last week by Venezuelan state-owned oil company’s (PDVSA) U.S. subsidiary for over a $15 million payment made as part of a $50 million contract.

The lawsuit alleges that Rivera failed to meet the provisions in the contract, where he is said to have promised that he would improve the reputation of PDVSA’s in the United States.

“Mr. Rivera is alleged to have worked as a consultant on behalf of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PDVSA”), and the regime of former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro—a repressive regime subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions,” wrote Menendez (pdf).

In the Demers letter, Menendez said that without being registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the lawsuit and press reports showed Rivera was working on behalf of a foreign agent.

“I therefore request that the Department of Justice review whether Mr. Rivera was in compliance with FARA, including whether he has an obligation to retroactively register as a foreign agent acting on behalf of the Maduro regime,” wrote Menendez.

Rivera had a different story. He told The Miami Herald Thursday that the funds from the PDVSA contract were funneled to the Venezuelan opposition, and that officials in the Trump administration “were aware of everything.”

A senior Trump administration official told the Miami Herald it was entirely false that either the NSC or the State Department were aware of Rivera’s activities.

“We are not aware of any of the former congressman’s business dealings with the illegitimate and tyrannical regime of Nicolás Maduro or its associates,” the official said.

Menendez wrote that FARA registrations are essential “to make judgments about the political activities of foreign governments and foreign agents operating in the United States.”

“When foreign agents fail to register under FARA, their activities on behalf of foreign powers are hidden from public view, obscuring potential threats to U.S. national security,” wrote Menendez.

It’s still unclear whether Rivera acted as a foreign agent, although he technically signed a contract with the U.S. subsidiary of PDVSA, PDV USA.

The lawsuit was filed by PDV USA, alleging Rivera “performed no meaningful services under the agreement,” after receiving the initial $15 million, and that Rivera later tried to get the remaining $35 million from the original $50 million contract.

PDV USA was still under the control of PDVSA, a corporation that’s directly controlled by the Maduro regime in 2017 when the contract was signed in 2017.

“If the U.S. Government is to be taken seriously in our efforts to defend and protect the Venezuelan people from the tyranny of the Maduro regime, the last thing we should tolerate is a former member of Congress potentially violating U.S. laws as he does the regime’s dirty work in the United States,” wrote Menendez.