Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 11 of 15 members of the security detail of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who were accused of beating protesters during an official visit to Washington last year.
The scenes were captured by dozens of onlookers and shared on social media, leading many U.S. lawmakers to issue angry statements, including Senator John McCain who called Turkey a third world country.
The original decision by the U.S. government to prosecute the 15 men increased political tensions between the Trump administration and Turkey.
Prosecutors first asked a judge in November to dismiss charges against four members of Mr. Erdogan’s security detail. Then they dropped charges against seven others on Feb. 14, the day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to Ankara for a meeting with Erdogan, hoping to ease tensions.
Among those freed of legal jeopardy immediately before the high-level meeting was the head of Mr. Erdogan’s security team.
U.S. officials said that no one pressured prosecutors to drop any of the charges for political reasons.
Mr. Tillerson, in his private talks with Turkish leaders, pointed to the decisions to drop charges—- which hadn’t been publicized or announced—- as an example of how the U.S. had addressed Mr. Erdogan’s grievances, according to administration officials familiar with the talks.
Videos of the clashes showed men in suits with side arms punching and kicking demonstrators as Washington police and U.S. Secret Service officers tried to intervene.
At least nine demonstrators were hospitalized. One police officer and two members of the Secret Service were also injured.
U.S. lawmakers denounced the attack and some called on the Trump administration to expel Turkey’s ambassador. District of Columbia Police Chief Peter Newsham characterized it as an unprovoked and “brutal attack on peaceful protesters.”
The police department produced large “wanted” posters featuring photographs of the Turkish security guards that they displayed at a news conference announcing the charges, which included felony assault for several members of the security detail.
Mr. Erdogan blasted the charges as “scandalous” and said his team was only trying to protect him. “Why would I take my guards to the United States if not to protect myself?” he said last June.
Washington police worked with the State Department to identify the suspects, but the case began to unravel last fall. In November, at the request of prosecutors, a judge dismissed charges against four members of Mr. Erdogan’s security detail.
Last month, prosecutors dropped charges against seven others. The U.S. attorney’s office didn’t issue a news release last month when it dropped the charges.
Instead, the office only responded to inquiries this week after requests from The Wall Street Journal.
Story from The Wall Street Journal
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