President Donald Trump is reportedly close to picking Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Elliott Abrams, the former appointee of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush who was convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, for the nation's second most powerful diplomatic job.
According to NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, Trump's administration is closing in on Abrams for the deputy secretary of state role, which would essentially make him the most powerful person in the State Department after recently confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He'd be a controversial pick to say the least, because as the progressive Nation's Eric Alterman argues, Abrams' conviction for the Iran-Contra affair is "just the tip of a colossal iceberg."
While serving as assistant secretary of state for human rights, Alterman wrote, Abrams backed Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt's genocide against the "indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché." As evidence was mounting, Montt was responsible for slaughtering thousands of civilians during the country's 36-year civil war, which killed up to 250,000 people. Abrams fought for the U.S. to provide military backing to Montt's regime by citing its "considerable progress" on human rights. He also downplayed or attempted to discredit witnesses to the Montt regime's brutality as well as that of one of his successors, President Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo.
Montt later faced charges of genocide; a Guatemalan court convicted him in 2013 and sentenced him to 80 years, though the sentence was later thrown out on "a legal technicality", Reuters reported, with continuing efforts to convict him underway.
As Alterman noted, while serving on President George W. Bush's National Security Council, Abrams also supported a 2002 coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as well as helped subvert the results of a 2006 election in Palestinian territories, "strengthening the most radical elements of Hamas and undermining — perhaps forever — the possibility of a democratic peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Writing in the National Interest, Daniel R. DePetris added Abrams' attempts to hide the Reagan administration's solicitation of foreign funds for right-wing rebels in Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra scandal were a "willful disdain of congressional overseers to the point of being convicted on charges coming close to perjury."