An American who was held in a Venezuelan prison for nearly two years on weapons charges made it back to the U.S. Saturday evening where he was greeted by his family and President Trump.
Josh Holt and his Venezuelan wife, Thamy, landed at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. There the couple and their daughter, Marian Leal, reunited with his family in a tearful meeting at the airport.
Trump later hosted the family in the Oval Office and told Holt he was "brave" and "went through a lot."
Holt, 26, of Utah thanked the president and all the government officials who worked for his release.
"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude," he said. "I'm just so grateful for what you guys have done and for thinking about me and caring about me, just a normal person, so it really touches me and thank you."
The president used the opportunity to target the previous administration and boast about the other prisoners his administration has freed since he took office, including the three men earlier this month who were let go by North Korea.
"We've had 17 prisoners released during the Trump administration," Trump said while seated next to Holt. "Most people don't know that."
He said the administration is working to free other prisoners, including a North Carolina preacher who is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges. Trump said Holt's case had proved difficult and lawmakers, along with members of the State Department, had been working tirelessly to have him released.
"You were a tough one," Trump told Holt. "That was a tough situation."
Earlier, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, tweeted a video of the family's emotional reunion. Holt's mother, Laurie Holt, gave him a bear hug, not letting go for nearly a minute as they both cried. His father gave Holt, his wife and daughter hugs and joked, "It's about time!"
The Venezuelan government said Holt and his wife were freed in a goodwill gesture to the U.S., a measure that surprised some knowing the combative history between the two nations.
Hatch, who had worked for the coupleís release, said "I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family." Hatch brought Holtís parents, who called the release a "miracle," to the airport to reunite them Saturday evening.
His mother, Laurie Holt, thanked the president for ending the two-year battle to free her son and reuniting their family.
"I just can't even tell you," she said as she detailed how grateful she was for the help of so many lawmakers, notably those in Utah. "Thank you, thank you!"
Earlier in the day, the family issued a statement thanking everyone who "participated in this miracle."
Holt had gone to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Thamara, whom he met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish. He was arrested on weapons charges and accused of being a spy.
While in the Oval Office, Holt acknowledged the time in prison wasn't "the great vacation" he'd hoped for and he and his wife had started their marriage out rough, but his freedom has provided a new beginning for their family.
Trump said Holt was among those inside the Helicoide prison during a rebellion against guards last week. His family noted that the riot and knowing he was in danger was awful.
"People are trying to break in my room and kill me," Holt posted on Facebook at the time of the rebellion. "WHAT DO WE DO?"
In a Facebook video, Holt said, ďIím calling on the people of America: I need your help to get me out of this place. Iíve been begging my government for two years. They seem to be doing things, but Iím still here and now my life is threatened. How long do I have to suffer here? How long do my kids have to go asking for their mom and daddy?Ē
The Miami Herald reported Holt was a former Mormon missionary who was detained in Caracas along with his wife, Thamara CaleŮo, on charges his legal team claimed were false. Venezuela contended Holt was a spy involved in trying to destabilize the country.
The socialist nation on South America's northern coast has long been in crisis, with food and medicine shortages that have prompted hundreds of thousands of residents to flee.
After Nicolas Maduro was re-elected president for a second, six-year term Sunday, Vice President Pence called the vote a "sham," and the Trump administration imposed new sanctions.
Following the vote, Maduro expelled U.S. charge díaffaires Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote by pressuring opposition parties to boycott the election, which had the lowest voter turnout in decades.
Corker met with Maduro on Friday amid speculation Holt's imprisonment was on the agenda. The Venezuelan government released 20 activists from prison the same day.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted just as Holt's plane landed that while he was "very glad" Holt was back home, sanctions against the country would "continue until democracy returns to Venezuela."