Donald Trump repeatedly raised the idea of the US invading Venezuela in discussions with his senior aides and leaders of other South American countries, it has emerged.
The US president first made the suggestion in the Oval Office on August 10 at the end of a meeting about putting sanctions on Venezuela.
An ongoing political and economic crisis in the troubled nation was disrupting regional security, and Mr Trump wanted to know why the US could not intervene militarily.
Those present at the meeting included Rex Tillerson, then the US Secretary of State, and H.R. McMaster, then Mr Trump’s national security adviser.
Bob Baer, a former CIA operative, said the idea of a coup in Venezuela had been "in the air for a couple of years" in intelligence circles, and he suspected the president had "got wind of it".
He said: "I understand McMaster pushed back, said ‘stay out of it’. It’s very sensitive in South America – US troops operating there, overthrowing governments, is beyond the pale.
"Then again, Venezuela is a mess, and countries around it are scared. The situation is ripe for a change so we’ll see where it goes."
Mr Baer said Venezuelan exiles had been trying to "transmit a message" to the president and "he’s listening, clearly."
Mr McMaster, and others, spent around five minutes answering the president’s query.
They told him that invading Venezuela would cause a backlash against the US across South and Central America.
However, Mr Trump still did not dismiss the idea, referring to the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s as examples of previous US interventions.
The following day Mr Trump spoke publicly about a "military option" to remove Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela.
At the time Mr Maduro responded by ordering military exercises, and sending loyalist demonstrators on to the streets of Caracas to condemn Mr Trump as an "Emperor".
Mr Maduro’s son suggested that if his country was invaded "we will take the White House".
The actions and rhetoric on both sides were widely regarded at the time as empty threats.
But Mr Trump’s contemplation of military action continued, and he subsequently raised the prospect with Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President, the Associated Press reported.
In September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, he again discussed the idea with Mr Santos, and three other leaders from Latin America.
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Mr McMaster then had another discussion with the president about the subject. Mr McMaster resigned the following March.
Official US policy is that "all options" are available to help stabilise the situation in Venezuela.
The US, along with Canada and the European Union, has already put sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials, including Mr Maduro, over allegations of corruption.
It has also sent more $30 million to the neighbouring countries taking in more than one million migrants who have fled.
The backdrop for this terrific reporting about Trump considering invading Venezuela – last summer was what one aide called a “desperate time” during which the president was consumed by the Mueller probe and stymied in his anger at Sessions https://t.co/bxOFL6fUoW
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 4, 2018
Mr Maduro has long accused the US of having military designs on Venezuela’s oil reserves,
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A US official said there had never been any "imminent plans" for a military strike against Venezuela, and Mr Trump had been "thinking out loud" when he talked about the idea.