John Bolton's Venezuela news conference notes included '5,000 troops to Colombia' for some reason

National Security Adviser John Bolton's notes on Venezuela
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced new sanctions Monday on Venezuela's state oil company, and National Security Adviser John Bolton was also at the briefing to warn that "all options are on the table" if President Nicolas Maduro does not step down in favor of the U.S.-recognized interim president, Juan Guaidó, the 35-year-old leader of the opposition-led National Assembly. A note scrawled on Bolton's a yellow legal pad raised eyebrows: "5,000 troops to Colombia."

The White House did not exactly discourage the idea of the U.S. sending troops to South America, reiterating that "all options are on the table." Pentagon officials told The Washington Post that the Defense Department hasn't received any such orders.

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It's possible Bolton accidentally disclosed sensitive military plans, and it may be he was sending a not-so-secret message to Maduro. Also, it "could mean nothing," national security analyst Ankit Panda quipped. The hawkish "Bolton might just doodle 'x troops to y country' daily as a daydreaming exercise."

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On Monday night, Bolton tweeted an implicit response to the photo of his note pad, writing that the Trump administration will continue to "ensure that interim President Guaido and the Venezuelan people have the resources and support they need to bring democracy back to Venezuela." Bolton said at Monday's briefing that any action by Maduro against Guaidó, U.S. diplomats, or the National Assembly would be considered a "grave assault" met by "a significant response," and so far, The Associated Press notes, Maduro has let Guaidó run free.

"They won't dare touch Guaidó," Human Rights Watch's Jose Miguel Vivanco tells AP. "There's a new dynamic at play. Even while Maduro's government continues to brutally repress the poor and invisible, they won't harm Guaidó because he has so much international support."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.