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Diosdado Cabello, who heads Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly, with President Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

U.S. officials are in secret talks with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's top aides for him to step down and enable free elections in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Axios' Jonathan Swan reported Sunday that talks were taking place.

Details: Key Maduro regime figures are trying to negotiate for safety guarantees in order for elections to take place, according to WSJ. Senior Maduro representatives have offered opposition negotiators the possibility of a presidential election in the coming months, WSJ reports.

Why it matters: That offer, made weeks ago during separate talks in Barbados involving top Maduro officials — Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez and Vice President Delcy Rodríguez — is considered a key breakthrough since the regime has publicly said it wouldn’t be pressured into holding a new vote, according to WSJ.

The big picture: As Swan first reported, the WSJ said alleged drug lord and top Maduro aide Diosdado Cabello has been playing a key role in the talks. He aims to negotiate for U.S. assurances that he and others can remain in politics in Venezuela to take part in elections and not face sanctions if the regime loses power, the WSJ reports.

  • Venezuela and Maduro's regime have been crippled by U.S. sanctions, which President Trump expanded this month to include a total economic embargo.

What they're saying: Trump told reporters Tuesday that officials in his administration were "in touch" with Maduro regime members "at a very high level." "We're talking to various representatives of Venezuela," he said.

  • Maduro said in a televised address Tuesday, translated by the British news outlet The Times, that the talks had taken place for months "with my express and direct permission."

Go deeper: Embargo on Venezuela pits U.S. against China and Russia

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

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