Day 1,379: Blatant corruption: DOJ told to go easy on Turkish bank while Trump took in millions from Turkey

3 min readOct 30, 2020

Donald Trump’s affinity for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is well-documented.

More than just a love for Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, Trump has millions of personal financial incentives to remain on good terms with Ankara.

As a bombshell New York Times story details, blatant corruption leads directly back to the White House.

The Department of Justice was undertaking a criminal investigation into Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank, for funneling billions of dollars into Iran, potentially helping “finance Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” A desperate Erdogan, seeing a real threat to his family and political party, was pressuring Trump non-stop to end the probe.

In the end, Attorney General William Barr tried to allow Halkbank off with a slap on the wrist.

Mr. Barr pressed [then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey] Berman to allow the bank to avoid an indictment by paying a fine and acknowledging some wrongdoing. In addition, the Justice Department would agree to end investigations and criminal cases involving Turkish and bank officials who were allied with Mr. Erdogan and suspected of participating in the sanctions-busting scheme.

The acting attorney general before Barr also shut down a request from U.S. attorneys to file criminal charges against the bank.

While allowing the Turks to undercut his own policy, Trump was lining his pockets with cash from Turkey.

The president was discussing an active criminal case with the authoritarian leader of a nation in which Mr. Trump does business; he reported receiving at least $2.6 million in net income from operations in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, according to tax records obtained by The New York Times.

And Mr. Trump’s sympathetic response to Mr. Erdogan was especially jarring because it involved accusations that the bank had undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of economically isolating Iran, a centerpiece of his Middle East plan.

Everything for Trump has been transactional, with the U.S. government as the payer and Trump himself as the beneficiary.

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, Mr. 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.”

Importantly, as the Times report shows, Trump’s intrusions in the Halkbank made no logical sense as anything but personal favors.

Mr. Bolton and others said they could not fully explain why Mr. Trump seemed so determined to please Mr. Erdogan.

“This was a relationship that was really important for the United States to handle,” said Fiona Hill, who oversaw policy on Turkey and Europe for the National Security Council under Mr. Trump. “And at every turn, the president kept leaping in, and he wasn’t following the strategic threads of the relationship.”

Ironically, and dovetailing into an election just days away, in August 2016, Erdogan pushed then-Vice President Joe Biden to drop the early stages of the investigation into Halkbank. Not only did Biden immediately tell the press that doing Erdogan’s bidding would be outside the bounds of the executive office, but that stepping into the fray would be impeachable.

Speaking to reporters before he left Turkey, Mr. Biden made clear that there were limits to what the United States could or should do to address Mr. Erdogan’s requests, including any effort to extradite [a Muslim cleric].

“If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers,” Mr. Biden said, with Mr. Erdogan at his side.

Once Trump won, a reenergized Erdogan pressed forward with Trump, who had no qualms about turning a blind eye to the scheme.

1,379 days in, 83 to go

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