Maduro at a 2018 independence day parade. Photo: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. unsealed drug trafficking charges Thursday against President Nicolás Maduro and other senior Venezuelan officials.

Why it matters: It's a highly unusual indictment of a head of state that comes 14 months after the U.S. recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's president. Maduro remains in power, even as the U.S. has insisted he step down and said all options were on the table if he did not.

  • The Trump administration has stepped up its sanctions — more will be announced Thursday, per NBC News — but not managed to topple Maduro.
  • The State Department is offering $15 million for information that could lead to Maduro's capture.

Venezuela is in the midst of one of the world's worst economic crises and millions have fled the country, overwhelming Colombia and other countries in the region.

  • The Trump administration has worked to block the regime's revenue streams, which include oil, gold and drugs.
  • The Venezuelan opposition is demanding democratic elections (Maduro rigged the last presidential vote), but has limited leverage.

What they're saying:

“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities. Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government — a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes.” 
— Attorney General Bill Barr

The bottom line: Even some of Maduro's critics concede a compromise will be needed to break this damaging deadlock. The Trump administration's position remains that Maduro must go.

Read the charges.

Go deeper

Post-debate poll finds Biden strong on every major issue

Joe Biden speaks Friday about "The Biden Plan to Beat COVID-19," at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This is one of the bigger signs of trouble for President Trump that we've seen in a poll: Of the final debate's seven topics, Joe Biden won or tied on all seven when viewers in a massive Axios-SurveyMonkey sample were asked who they trusted more to handle the issue.

Why it matters: In a time of unprecedented colliding crises for the nation, the polling considered Biden to be vastly more competent.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
4 hours ago - Science

The murder hornets are here

A braver man than me holds a speciment of the Asian giant hornet. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Entomologists in Washington state on Thursday discovered the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S.

Why it matters: You may know this insect species by its nom de guerre: "the murder hornet." While the threat they pose to humans has been overstated, the invading hornets could decimate local honeybee populations if they establish themselves.