Bipartisan U.S. lawmakers urge Trump to sanction Venezuelan government officials

A bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers has sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to step up pressure on Venezuela's government by immediately sanctioning officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses, The Associated Press has learned.

The letter was partly prompted by an AP investigation, which it cites, that found corruption in Venezuela's food imports. It also calls for a thorough probe into alleged drug trafficking and support for Middle Eastern terror groups by the country's new vice president, Tareck El Aissami. 

El Aissami has been the target of U.S. law enforcement since his days as interior minister almost a decade ago, and has been tied to bribes paid to officials by the nation's top convicted drug trafficker. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The letter, co-written by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, the former chair of the house Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, the ranking member of the foreign relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America, appears intended to force the administration's hand.

"Decisive, principled action in response to unfolding developments in Venezuela as one of the first foreign policy actions of your administration would send a powerful message to the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan people," according to the letter, which was signed by an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.