Last week saw a flurry of breaking news about the international activities of the Trump – Giuliani crime duo. The motto here seems to be “always commit more crimes than you can remember, then perhaps you can’t be punished for lying about them.“ However, this might turn out to be a somewhat shaky basis for a legal defense.
At any rate, we are looking at a confusing mess involving entities and individuals from Ukraine and Turkey and their American associates, whose collective influence extends all the way to the White House. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on the emerging stories that concern Turkey. As a matter of fact, Chris Hayes argued on MSNBC’s All In that what it all seems to boil down to is really just one story: the story of “America’s Mayor“ lobbying on Turkey’s behalf and Donald Trump agreeing to give President Erdogan everything he wants.
What is it then that Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants? As we all know by now, the Turkish president wants to push the Kurds away from the Turkish border and, by the looks of it, he would like to eliminate what he has long seen as the Kurdish threat once and for all.
Secondly, Erdogan wants to see his long-time nemesis Fetullah Gülen extradited from the U.S. where the Turkish cleric has been a permanent resident since 1999. In an effort to bring the man he blames for the failed 2016 coup against him back to Turkey and to make him a political prisoner, President Erdogan has mounted a massive lobbying campaign. Among other things, this campaign has involved the spreading of online conspiracy theories which present the Gülen-Erdogan conflict as a struggle between a fundamentalist muslim cleric and the good, secular president of the modern Turkish republic. This narrative couldn’t be farther from the truth: Fetullah Gülen is not a fundamentalist who is trying to turn Turkey into an Islamic state and Erdogan is not quite as modern and secular as he likes to present himself to his Western allies.
Moreover, the falling out between Erdogan and Gülen had nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with corruption on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s part, but the narrative spread by the Turkish propaganda machine taps deftly into latent Islamophobia in the United States and has therefore fallen on fertile ground. The most vocal and influential proponent of the idea of extraditing Fetullah Gülen is, by all accounts, Rudy Giuliani, who has been lobbying Donald Trump in this matter since basically day one.
Interestingly, it is also the former New York mayor who is involved in a third matter that is close to the Turkish president’s heart. Erdogan is hoping to get U.S. authorities to drop the case they have been pursuing against Halkbank, the state-owned Turkish bank that is under investigation for a yearslong scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions, allegedly with the consent of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The man at the center of the Halkbank scandal is Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, and Rudy Giuliani was at some point part of Zarrab’s legal team.
After the Halkbank case had been put on hold for reasons that are unclear, federal prosecutors in New York have unsealed an indictment against the bank late last Tuesday, according to a Foreign Policy report, just when tensions between the U.S. and Turkey were mounting in the wake of Turkey’s incursion into Syria. Two days later, Trump sent Pence and Pompeo to Ankara to negotiate a ceasefire in a desperate attempt to save face. It remains to be seen in the coming days whether sweeping the Halkbank case back under the rug was part and parcel of the negotiations in which the U.S. side so obviously got rolled by Turkey. If you really want to know which government the current U.S. president and his personal lawyer are working for, you should probably keep an eye on developments in the Halkbank case.