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Former Miami Congressman Rivera's indictment underscores Sen. Rubio's connection

Former Miami Congressman Rivera's indictment underscores Sen. Rubio's connection
Former Miami Congressman Rivera's indictment underscores Sen. Rubio's connection 04:13

MIAMI - "Tell [Individual 1] to tell his new BFF the bus driver to pay us for the mtg w [U.S. Senator 1]. Since there will b no turkey without him." - Page 22, United States of America vs David Rivera and Esther Nuhfer.

The indictment of former Congressman David Rivera reads like a cheap spy novel, complete with encrypted text messages and code names designed to conceal Rivera's secret representation of Venezuela's government.

Former Rep. David Rivera (Source: CBS4)

Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro was "El Guaguero" or "The Bus Driver."

An unnamed Congressman from Texas was called "Sombrero" or "The Hat."

Money was referred to as "La Luz" (The Light) and the millions of dollars being paid were "Melons."

One character without a code name is known simply in the indictment as "U.S. Senator 1" who was described as a "United States Senator from Florida."

The identity of the senator is not much of a mystery. It's Marco Rubio.

The charges against Rivera include conspiracy to commit money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent, and conspiracy to commit offense against the United States. Rivera and his co-defendant, Esther Nuhfer, who used to work for Rubio, are accused of using their access to the Florida Senator and other elected officials to improve Venezuela's standing with the United States, which had imposed stringent sanctions against the Socialist regime.

Rivera had signed a secret consulting contract with the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. The contract was worth $50 million. The federal indictment maintains Rivera received more than $23 million.

According to the indictment against Rivera and Nuhfer, they arranged two meetings with Rubio to discuss Venezuela. The first took place on July 9, 2017, at a private residence in Washington, D.C. in which Rivera told Rubio that he was in touch with an individual identified in the indictment as "Foreign Individual 1," who, according to the indictment, "had persuaded President Maduro to accept a deal whereby President Maduro would hold free elections."

The indictment also reveals a text message Rivera sent to Nuhfer, and two other unnamed individuals on July 10, 2017, in which Rivera noted Rubio would be meeting with President Trump the next day "to tell him that he has the possibility in his hands to solve the crisis in V [Venezuela]"

On July 11, Rivera sent a series of texts to Rubio:

"Remember, US should facilitate, not just support, a negotiated solution."

"No vengeance, reconciliation."

On July 12, 2017, Rubio met at a Washington hotel with Rivera, Nuhfer, and three other people, including a "Venezuelan Politician" who was on the phone. According to the indictment, the Venezuelan politician was a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly. 

Ultimately the discussions went nowhere. Nevertheless, it is clear from the federal indictment that Rivera and Nuhfer used their ties to Rubio solicit millions of dollars from the Venezuelan government.

On July 14, Nuhfer, who previously worked as a campaign consultant for Rubio, sent a text to Rivera: "No more mtgs until we get a slice."

And Rivera sent a text to Nuhfer that same day: "Tell [Individual 1] to tell his new BFF the bus driver to pay us for the mtg w [Rubio]. Since there will b no turkey without him."

The implication is that unless Rivera was paid the balance on the $50 million contract he was owed, Rubio would block any reconciliation between the United States and Venezuela.

Rubio is not charged with any wrongdoing, and it is not clear what he knew about Rivera's secret dealings with the Venezuelan government and specifically Maduro.

In an interview with CBS News Miami in August 2022, I asked Rubio: "Have you ever had a conversation with David Rivera regarding his representation of Venezuela."

Rubio responded: "No but I can tell you this, that it had nothing to do with me."

Rubio went on to say: "We've worked closely but not on this. And there is not a single person claiming otherwise."

But it is now clear from the indictment it had everything to do with Rivera's relationship to Rubio and they did work – however briefly – on potentially easing sanctions against Venezuela.

But that didn't stop Rubio in the August 2022 CBS News Miami interview, to express frustration that reporters would even ask him about Rivera and his work for the socialist regime.

"The only reason people ask this is they're hoping, everybody, you know people that ask that question Jim, including yourself, unfortunately, everyone's hoping that there's some sort of linkage to me," Rubio said. "Not a single one of these articles claims that there is and if they did, they'd be lying. The truth of the matter is that has nothing to do with me. But people like to ask it because they think it'd be interesting if there was something there. Nothing to do with me."

Rubio's staff denies he lied or was deliberately misleading in his earlier answers to CBS News Miami. They argue he was only answering the question of whether he had specifically asked Rivera about his consulting agreement with Venezuela.

CBS News Miami sent a series of questions to Rubio, including whether he had been interviewed by the FBI as part of their investigation of Rivera; was Rubio given advance notice of the indictment against Rivera and Nuhfer; and whether he in fact discussed the proposals regarding Venezuela with then President Trump.

A spokesperson for Rubio issued the following statement:

"During a July 2017 meeting, Mr. Rivera told Senator Rubio that close Maduro associate Raul Gorrín wanted to personally deliver a letter from the dictator to the President outlining an agreement to hold free and fair elections and exit power. A few days later Gorrin came to a brief meeting in Washington, but produced no such letter and failed to even mention the possibility of any such deal." 

The Rubio statement continues: "As the indictment explicitly indicates, Mr. Rivera and his associates "never disclosed to any of the United States officials who they met that they were lobbying on behalf of the Government of Venezuela." And it lays out how Senator Rubio communicated directly what he has said publicly for over five years, that the only way sanctions should be lifted is if the regime agrees to free and fair elections. If, as is alleged, this was an effort to soften his stance on sanctions, it failed miserably."

One question the Rubio spokesperson did not answer that I sent to Rubio's office: It appears from the indictment that both Rivera and Nuhfer used their relationship with Senator Rubio to secure a $50 million contract with Venezuela. Does Senator Rubio know why either Nuhfer or Rivera felt comfortable enough to use their relationship to Senator Rubio to allegedly personally profit?

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