The close ties between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are once again in the spotlight a few days before the presidential elections.
In two separate reports, The New York Times and Reuters highlight the questionable relationship between the two men, as they reveal that the White House quashed an investigation into a Turkish bank suspected of violating U.S. sanctions law, and stopped the imposition of sanctions on Turkey after the country acquired a Russian missile system.
The Justice Department moved to quash an investigation into a state-owned Turkish bank after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested the favor, according to a New York Times investigation.
The newspaper reports Erdogan had personally pressed President Donald Trump to end the investigation into Halkbank, which was accused of funneling billions of dollars to Iran.
Later, Attorney General William Barr reportedly moved to settle with the bank to allow it to avoid an indictment by paying a fine — a move that was abandoned after Trump and Erdogan fell out over Syria.
The Times reports White House officials became worried Trump’s handling of the case was designed with a future favor in mind from a country where he owes millions of dollars in his Trump Organization business.
Trump received at least $2.6 million in net income from operations in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, according to tax records obtained by The Times.
Former White House officials said they came to fear that the president was open to swaying the criminal justice system to advance a transactional and ill-defined agenda of his own.
“He would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader,” John R. Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, said in a recent interview.
“In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road.”
Reuters reports that days after Turkey took delivery of Russian missile defense systems in July 2019, top security officials in the Trump administration were in full agreement that Washington should deliver on its threat to impose sanctions on its NATO ally.
The U.S. State Department had sent its recommendations to the National Security Council, calling for prompt sanctions on Turkish individuals and entities. and the measures were going to be rolled out once President Trump approved.
However, that never came to pass, as he disagreed with his closest advisers, two sources familiar with Trump’s decision-making said. To date, the President has refused to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the Russian S-400 missiles, which Washington says compromise NATO defenses.
By overruling advisers, Trump’s instinct was to go lightly on Turkey, says Reuters.
The news agency adds that should Republican Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden win Tuesday’s election, as opinion polls suggest, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will be losing his most valuable ally in Washington, leaving Ankara vulnerable to the wrath of a deeply antagonized U.S. Congress and some U.S. agencies skeptical of Turkey.
“I get along very well with Erdogan”
The relationship between Trump and Erdogan has been scrutinized by Congressional leaders.
In September, Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded the alarm over Trump’s “close ties” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and asked the Administration to provide details of exchanges between the two leaders.
In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien dated September 21, Menendez cites the audio recordings by veteran journalist and author Bob Woodward, where President Trump said that “I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you’re not supposed to because everyone says, ‘What a horrible guy.’ But, you know, for me it works out good.”
In his letter, Menendez says “while it may have worked out for the President personally, this relationship has not worked out well for the national security of the United States, the country he was elected to lead.”