President Trump welcomes former Venezuela prisoner Josh Holt back to the US
Clare Foran and Kate Sullivan, CNN
(CNN) — President Donald Trump welcomed Josh Holt, an American who had been held as a prisoner in Venezuela since the summer of 2016, back to the US on Saturday night.
“You’ve gone through a lot, more than most people could endure,” the President said to Holt as the two were seated side-by-side in the Oval Office.
“I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys for everything that you’ve done,” Holt said, adding that it had been a “very, very difficult two years.”
Holt, a Pocatello native, arrived at the White House with his wife, Thamy, who had also been imprisoned, shortly after flying back from Venezuela. After the flight landed, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said earlier in the day that his office helped secure Holt’s release, posted a video to Twitter showing Holt reuniting with his family.
In his remarks from the White House, Trump thanked Hatch along with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love of Utah. The President also took the opportunity to highlight the release of other Americans held prisoner abroad, including the recent release of three Americans who had been detained by North Korea.
“You were a tough one, I have to tell you, that was a tough situation,” the President said to Holt, adding that he is “very proud” of the administration’s overall track record.
Trump also said that his administration is “in the midst of some very big negotiations” in an effort to secure the release of other individuals. “In most cases, they’re Americans, but we can try and help other countries, too, where there’s injustice,” the President said.
Holt joked that the time he spent in Venezuela was “not really the great vacation that I was looking for,” and said that he was “so grateful,” describing himself as “a normal person.”
“You’ve been very brave,” Trump said to Holt. “You’ve been incredibly brave.”
Trump ignored a question on if Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had gotten anything in exchange for the release of Josh Holt. Holt’s mother told CNN he had not.
Earlier, NSC officials told CNN’s Boris Sanchez that the US “offered nothing” to Venezuelan leadership in exchange for the release of Holt.
Getting the Holts back to the US
The President announced on Saturday morning that Holt had been released from prison in Venezuela and was expected to land in D.C. that evening. The U.S. “offered nothing” to Venezuelan leadership in exchange for the release of Holt, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN.
Holt traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Venezuelan Thamara Caleño, according to news reports. He was arrested shortly afterward and accused by the Venezuelan government of stockpiling weapons and attempting to destabilize the government, according to The Washington Post. Holt was held for nearly two years without standing trial.
Holt and his wife were freed overnight and released to the US Embassy in Caracas, according to Foro Penal, a human rights organization of lawyers and others who assist political prisoners in Venezuela. The couple was joined by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee as they flew back to the US on Saturday afternoon.
The U.S. “offered nothing” to Venezuelan leadership in exchange for the release of Holt, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN.
“We’re grateful to all who participated in this miracle,” Holt’s family said in a statement.
“Over the last two years I’ve worked with two Presidential administrations, countless diplomatic contacts, ambassadors from all over the world, a network of contacts in Venezuela, and President Maduro himself, and I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton,” Hatch said in a statement earlier on Saturday.
“I want to thank (Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Chairman Bob Corker for his pivotal efforts, and that of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their help in this effort. I want to particularly thank Caleb McCarry, whose expertise and effort in Venezuela on my behalf has been instrumental in bringing Josh home,” he said, referring to an aide of Corker’s.
“I am pleased to join Senator Hatch and President Trump in announcing the release of Josh and Thamy Holt,” Corker said in a statement. “Senator Hatch has worked tirelessly on the Holt family’s behalf, and I was honored to play a small role in bringing Josh and his wife home to the United States. I also would like to thank Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo and his team at the State Department for all that they have done.”
Other members of Congress expressed their elation over Holt’s release. Love tweeted, “After nearly 2 years, Josh Holt is finally coming home! Thanks to @realdonaldtrump and others who I’ve had the pleasure to work with to secure Josh’s freedom. #justiceforjosh #utpol.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised Hatch for working “tirelessly to bring this innocent young man & his bride home.”
“Josh & Thamy Holt had nothing to do with internal politics in #Venezuela,” Rubio tweeted.
Holt’s release comes more than a week after he posted videos to Facebook during a prison riot, pleading for help from Americans and the US government. In one video he said, “I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things, but I’m still here.”