As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: with a fast unravelling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can't the US just invade the troubled country?
The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H R McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.
In an exchange that lasted about five minutes, Mr McMaster and others took turns explaining to the president how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official.
The president continued to entertain the idea of an invasion, speaking the day after the meeting to the press at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminster and telling them that “we have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbour".
“We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”
Mr Trump also raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and discussed it at last year's UN general assembly at a dinner with friendly Latin American states.
“My staff told me not to say this,” Mr Trump reportedly said, before asking the other leaders if they would support a military solution to the Venezuelan crisis.