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Top State Department Official Travels to Venezuela to Meet With Detained Americans



(CNN) — A top State Department official traveled to Venezuela this week and met with detained Americans as the Biden administration continues to seek their release, multiple sources confirmed to CNN Friday.

Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens’ quiet visit to the capital city of Caracas represents a significant development as efforts to free the men, many of whom have been imprisoned for years by the government of embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, have yet to succeed.

“We can confirm that the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens traveled to Caracas for discussions about the welfare and safety of US nationals in Venezuela,” a State Department official said Friday.

“We continue to advocate for the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully detained US nationals in Venezuela at every opportunity,” the official said.

According to a source familiar, the administration was able to work with the Maduro government to arrange the visits to check on a group of detained oil executives known as the “CITGO 6,” who have just begun their fifth year in Venezuelan detention, as well as three other Americans who have been detained since 2020. This source said the Maduro government was accommodating of the visit.

No American officials had been able to meet in person with the detained men in years, as the US severed diplomatic ties with Maduro under the Trump administration.

Carstens traveled with a small State Department delegation, the source familiar said, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken personally advocated for the trip.

According to family members of the CITGO 6, Carstens visited with the men — Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira — for about an hour and a half at El Helicoide, where they are imprisoned.

The State Department briefed the families about the visit on Friday, after Carstens had returned to Washington. The Associated Press was first to report on Carstens’ trip.

His meeting with the CITGO 6 came as a total shock, several of the family members told CNN.

Carstens “actually brought pictures of him with our families” to prove his identity to the detained Americans, said Alexandra Z. Forseth, the daughter of Alirio Jose Zambrano and niece of Jose Luis Zambrano. She said it seemed that the guards at the prison gave the men some privacy to meet with Carstens.

“I think it was very uplifting for both parties,” she told CNN.

One of the men recognized Carstens and was so taken aback that he asked to touch his face to see if it was really him. Carstens gave each of the men a hug before he left, the source familiar said.

The CITGO 6 — five US citizens and one permanent resident — were summoned to Venezuela in November 2017 for an emergency work meeting, where they were arrested on corruption charges.

As CNN reported in recent weeks, the men have become pawns in the geopolitical confrontation between the US government and the Maduro regime. Carstens’ visit comes follows increased public scrutiny from the families over the lack of progress in securing the group’s release.

The US envoy was also able to meet jointly with Luke Denman and Airan Berry, two US veterans arrested in May 2020 on accusations by Maduro that they were attempting a coup, as well as with Matthew Heath, another US veteran who was arrested in September 2020 and accused of being a terrorist.

Denman’s brother Mark described it as a “welfare check” and said the meeting lasted about 45 minutes. Heath’s family said Carstens “was able to conduct a brief wellness check.”

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Biden Answers Inflation Query by Calling Fox Reporter SOB



WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden responded to a question about inflation on Monday by calling a Fox News reporter a vulgarity.

The president was in the East Room of the White House for a meeting of his Competition Council, which is focused on changing regulations and enforcing laws to help consumers deal with high prices. Reporters in the room shouted a number of questions after Biden’s remarks.

Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Biden about inflation, which is at a nearly 40-year high and has hurt the president’s public approval. Doocy’s network has been relentlessly critical of Biden.

Doocy called out, “Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?”

Biden responded with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a [expletive].”

His comments were captured on video and by the microphone in front of him. Doocy laughed it off in a subsequent appearance on his network, joking, “Nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it’s not true.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House has insisted repeatedly that it is focused on curbing inflation, with Biden reorienting his entire economic agenda around the issue. But the president has also shown a willingness to challenge a media that he deems to be too critical, especially Fox News and Doocy.

At his news conference last week, Biden said to Doocy with sarcasm, “You always ask me the nicest questions.”

“I have a whole binder full,” the reporter answered.

“I know you do,” Biden said. “None of them make a lot of sense to me. Fire away.”


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J.Lo, ‘Marry Me’ Co-stars Talk About Life Imitating Art in New Rom-com



Jennifer Lopez can do it all, except age. She definitely does not seem to age at all, but in her new movie “Marry Me, J.Lo’s playing a part that looks and sounds familiar. We’re not complaining, and neither are her castmates.

Jennifer Lopez (as Kat Valdez): “All right, let’s do it again from the top. (singing) Marry me, marry me, say yes. Marry me, marry me, say yes.”

Jennifer Lopez is ready to say “I do” in the new rom-com “Marry Me.”

Entertainment reporter: “In 36 hours, superstar Kat Valdez and Grammy-winning Bastian will perform their new song ‘Marry Me’ and exchange vows in front of a streaming audience of 20 million people.”

But when her soon-to-be fiance gets busted cheating on her, she decides to tie the knot with a random concertgoer played by Owen Wilson.

Character in “Marry Me”: “Do you, some guy, take Kat to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

Owen Wilson (as Charlie Gilbert): “Okay.”

J.Lo says playing a mega-superstar singer who’s looking for real love hits really close to home.

Jennifer Lopez: “It was so much about it that, really, I could understand like nobody else could understand.”

Even to the point that…

Jennifer Lopez: “Kind of bearing my soul. It was actually a little bit more uncomfortable than playing a character that is nothing like you, because this is you kinda like really bringing real, personal life experience into a role in a way that I’ve never had to.”

Owen Wilson says that connection is what made J.Lo the best person to play Kat.

Owen Wilson: “You can’t imagine anyone but Jennifer Lopez playing this part, just because it seems so perfect for her skill set.”

One of those skills being busting a move.

Owen Wilson: “Everyone was watching the monitor, even the security guys, just because it’s fun watching her dance. You definitely don’t need a double for her dancing.”

Sarah Silverman, who plays his BFF in the movie, agrees.

Sarah Silverman: “We were at a J.Lo concert where she’s playing someone else named Kat Valdez. But it was unbelievable to watch live.”

J.Lo also got to reunite with Maluma for the movie, who she’s made music with before.

Jennifer Lopez: “Working with Maluma was a joy. It was so much fun. This was his first movie, his first time acting, and he was a natural. He was a real natural. He’s like, ‘You know, I’m not this guy. This is not who I – I’m not Bastian.’ I go, ‘No, I know. I know.”

Jennifer Lopez (as Kat Valdez): “I think we left smart six weeks ago.”

“Marry Me” asks for moviegoers’ commitment beginning Feb. 11.

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Miami Beach Police Searching for Missing 5-year-old Last Seen With Mother



Miami Beach Police seek the public’s help in their search for a missing girl who was last seen in the custody of her mother.

Investigators said 5-year-old Leah-Ranee Rose Lassiter was last seen on Nov. 18.

Police said her mother, Chantel Iman Dortch, has since refused to surrender the child to her biological father in contradiction to a court custody order.

Lassiter stands 4 feet tall, weighs around 50 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.

Mother and daughter were last seen in a black Audi A4 with the temporary Florida tag of DAG5401 that expired Sept. 21.

Officials urge anyone with information on their whereabouts to call Miami Beach Police at 305-673-7901.

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