President Donald Trump and his wife, first lady Melania Trump met with the wife of an imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader in February and reportedly tried to sympathize with her husband’s plight by comparing life in the White House to that inside a Venezuelan prison.
Lilian Tintori, who is married to Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, was at the White House to discuss human rights in Venezuela.
Many view Lopez as a political prisoner who has been jailed for nearly 14 years on trumped up charges related to a period of deadly antigovernment protests in 2014.
During the visit with Tintori, Trump seemed unfamiliar with her and her experiences, according to The Washington Post, though he reportedly knew enough to have “praised her past a reality television star in Venezuela’s version of ‘Survivor.'”
Trump and the first lady also reportedly tried to commiserate with Tintori through a source of their own discomfort — the White House.
Melania said she sympathized with what Lopez had gone through in jail in Caracas, Venezuela, noting that the White House felt as confining as prison, two people familiar with the meeting told the Post. Trump reportedly agreed.
The first lady’s spokeswoman denied she made that comment, telling the Post that Trump “only offered words of encouragement and strength.”
After their meeting, Trump gathered Tintori, Vice President Mike Pence, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for a photo, tweeting a final version with a call to release Lopez.
Tintori was reportedly elated with the meeting and Trump’s condemnations of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
In the months since, Trump has leveled more sanctions on Venezuelan officials and businesses, imposed a travel ban on some Venezuelans and their families, and excoriated Maduro during United Nations General Assembly address.