Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that during 2017, Rudy Giuliani pressed Donald Trump to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based cleric who Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for everything bad under the sun, including the failed 2016 coup.
Erdogan’s quest to secure the extradition is the stuff of legend. There is virtually nothing he wouldn’t do if it meant getting his hands on Gulen. For example, Trump’s disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn was once implicated in a wild scheme to forcibly remove Gulen from the US and deliver him to the Turkish government in exchange for $15 million. Robert Mueller investigated that plot.
And that’s just one of the more extreme examples. Erdogan habitually badgers US officials on the matter and around a year ago, Trump appeared to be on the verge of moving forward with Gulen’s extradition, despite career officials signaling that such a move was unthinkable. The idea, according to reports, was to “remove” Gulen from the US in order to convince Erdogan to let the Jamal Khashoggi murder alone.
At the time, Turkey was leveraging the evidence Ankara had gathered implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the extrajudicial killing. Colloquially speaking, Washington just wanted Erdogan to shut up. Handing over Gulen was one way to secure that outcome, but it never panned out, probably because it would have been legally dubious.
At one point that year, Trump attempted to rope in Rex Tillerson, who was reportedly asked to intervene with the Justice department in the case.
Early in 2017, Giuliani conducted a shadow diplomacy campaign with Turkey reminiscent of that which a series of State department officials have described with regard to Ukraine in testimony to House impeachment investigators this month.
Well, in the latest twist, Bloomberg reports that around the same time, the Trump White House looked into options for cutting off taxpayer assistance to Gulen-affiliated charter schools.
“The 2017 episode, never previously reported, came as the newly inaugurated US president prepared to meet for the first time with Erdogan”, Bloomberg writes, citing two people familiar with the matter, and adding that “the debate over funding for the schools unfolded over a few weeks ahead of Erdogan’s visit to the US in May 2017”.
If you’re wondering whether Giuliani was involved – or at least “interested” – the answer is obviously yes. In fact, the debate about the schools unfolded as Rudy was pressing Trump to extradite Gulen.
Bloomberg generously says that Giuliani’s “interest in Gulen and the schools isn’t clear”, but they do mention Zarrab.
Rudy was on at least one phone call about the schools, sources say, and apparently slipped Tillerson a “pamphlet” about them. Rex threw it away.
In the end, the administration couldn’t figure out a way to justify cutting funding for the schools, but needless to say, this latest bit of insight into efforts on the part of Trump and Giuliani to placate Erdogan raises still more concerns about whether the White House can be trusted to interact with Ankara and about what else Congress (and the public) might not know at a time when America’s relationship with Turkey is under intense scrutiny.
Turkey, Bloomberg reminds you, has expended considerable resources (financial and otherwise) attempting to have Gulen-linked schools shuttered across the globe. For example, Erdogan has spent more than a million dollars on a law firm as part of a push to undermine US schools he says are controlled by Gulen disciples.
According to CBS, there are more than 130 such institutions in 28 states across America.
It’s worth noting that Erdogan once told Joe Biden that Preet Bharara was “a Gulenist tool”. He also demanded that Biden fire Bharara. Of course, Bharara was ultimately fired – only not by Biden. But rather by Trump, and within weeks of Giuliani’s meeting with Erdogan during which Rudy attempted to secure some kind of concessions in exchange for the release of Zarrab.
All of that was going on in and around the time the discussions about the schools were taking place.
When Bloomberg tried to reach Giuliani by text message for comment, he didn’t respond. Jennifer Jacobs (or Saleha Moshin) left a message for Rudy with “a man who answered his phone but didn’t identify himself”.
Maybe it was Erdogan. Or John Barron.