Newsweek published a damning report about how President-elect Donald Trump’s business interests throughout the world could jeopardize U.S. national interests.
Donald Trump hasn’t been sworn in yet, Newsweek writes, “but he is already making decisions and issuing statements to world leaders that radically depart from American foreign policy, all to the benefit of his family’s corporate empire. Because of this, the next president of the United States is already vulnerable to undue influence by other nations, including through bribery and even blackmail.”
One such case involves Turkey, which due to the complexities of the region, could have implications on U.S. interests in Greece, Cyprus and beyond, given the inexorable link between the countries.
Newsweek brings to light the details of Trump’s business interests in Turkey, namely the Trump Towers in Istanbul, and a strange sequence of events that the magazine has suggested could lead to the “blackmail” of Trump by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The conflicts between the commercial interests of the Trump family and U.S. foreign policy extend beyond the many financial benefits for the next president and his children. Already, there is a situation in which the president of the United States could be blackmailed by a foreign power through pressure related to his family’s business entanglements.
In 2008, the Trump Organization struck a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group, a large corporation named after its influential family, for a two-tower complex in Istanbul.
In 2012, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presided over the opening ceremonies and met with Trump. But in June of this year, Erdogan called for the Trump name to be removed from the complex because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric; the Turkish president also said presiding over the dedication had been a terrible mistake. Erdogan later told associates he intended to impede America’s use of a critical Air Force base in Turkey should Trump win the presidency, a Middle Eastern financier with contacts inside the Turkish government told Newsweek. The financier spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing relations with his official contacts.
In July, members of the Turkish military attempted a coup. Erdogan crushed the plotters, and his government has arrested more than 36,000 suspected participants and shut down 17 media outlets. The primary culprit, Erdogan declared almost immediately, was Fethullah Gülen, a 77-year-old Muslim spiritual leader who has lived in Pennsylvania’s Poconos region for many years. Erdogan demanded that the Obama administration extradite Gülen to face charges related to the coup.
Gülen and Erdogan were allies until 2013, the year a series of corruption investigations erupted regarding government officials accused of engaging in a “gas for gold” scheme with Iran; Erdogan claimed the man with whom he once shared common goals was the driving force behind the inquiries, which he called an attempted “civilian coup.” Erdogan has placed Gülen on country’s list of most-wanted terrorists, but the Obama administration has not acted on the extradition request, and it has told the Turks they would have to produce proof of Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt before he could be sent to Ankara, the Turkish capital.
Enter Donald Trump. The day of the U.S. election, the news site The Hill published an article by Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, who has since been named as Trump’s national security adviser. “The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven…. It is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.” (Flynn, who runs a consulting firm hired by a company with links to the Turkish government, seems unaware that radical Islamic groups like the Islamic State, or ISIS, are more likely to decapitate someone like Gülen.)
That article, according to the financier with contacts in the Turkish government, led Erdogan and his associates to believe a Trump administration would not demand more evidence to justify deporting Gülen. So, almost immediately, Erdogan stopped condemning Trump and instead voiced support for him. The day after the U.S. election, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement directly linking his country’s good wishes for Trump with its desire to get Gülen back. “We congratulate Mr. Trump. I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil.”
In a telephone call that same day with Erdogan, Trump passed on compliments to the Turkish president from a senior official with his company’s business partner on the Istanbul project, whom the president-elect was reported to have called “a close friend.” The official, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, is the son-in-law of Dogan Holding owner Aydin Dogan and was instrumental in the development of the Trump complex in Turkey. That Trump delivered messages from his business partner to Erdogan has been reported in numerous media outlets in Turkey, including some closely tied to the government, and has not been denied by Turkish officials or the Trump transition team.
According to the Middle Eastern financier with contacts in the Erdogan administration, Trump’s casual praise of a member of the Dogan family prompted Erdogan to believe this relationship might give him leverage over the president-elect. In the past, Erdogan has placed enormous pressure on the Dogan Group, which owns media operations that have been critical of him, by imposing a $2.5 billion tax fine and calling for supporters to boycott its newspapers and television stations. Then, just weeks after hearing Trump’s kind words about his Dogan business partner, Erdogan lashed out at the Turkish company again.
On December 1, authorities detained Barbaros Muratogl, a 28-year veteran of Dogan who was the company’s representative to Ankara. His alleged crime? Maintaining links to the movement led by Gülen, thus connecting the Dogan executive to the attempted coup. In response, Dogan shares fell 8.6 percent. (The purported evidence against Muratogl: public accusations from an editor at a newspaper owned by a company that competes with Dogan.)
Once again, follow the dominoes as they tip over. Erdogan is frustrated in his efforts to grab Gülen; Trump praises a Turkish executive who works with his business partner there, Dogan. A few weeks later, a senior Dogan executive is detained on threadbare allegations. If Erdogan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from the tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdogan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gülen extradited. The financier with contacts in the Turkish government explained the dynamic to Newsweek: “Erdogan has something he believes Trump wants, and Trump has someone Erdogan desperately wants.”
Read the complete Newsweek story here.
MSNBC’s Rachel Madow spoke specifically about the conflict of interest on her show.