Trump’s Conflicts of Interest in Turkey / John Norris and Carolyn Kenney
Selling out America’s interests on the battlefield

In 2008, the Trump Organization inked into a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group, run by one of the most politically influential families in Turkey, to build a two-tower apartment, office, and shopping complex in Istanbul. The opening ceremonies for the complex in 2012 were presided over by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The very next year, in 2013, the Trump Organization entered into a partnership with luxury furniture company Dorya International to produce pieces to be sold under the Trump Home brand and distributed initially in Turkey. Dorya claims on its website to have furnished the offices of Turkey’s president, prime minister, armed forces, and embassies around the world.

During the election campaign, when then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Dogan Group founder and owner Aydin Dogan reportedly tried to break the contract with the Trump Organization. In addition, President Erdogan called for Trump’s name to be removed from the towers. However, Erdogan dropped this demand after Trump praised his response to the July 2016 coup attempt.

The day following the U.S. election, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement that linked his government’s congratulatory remarks to Trump with a call for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim spiritual leader and bitter rival of President Erdogan, who is currently in exile in Pennsylvania. “We congratulate Mr. Trump. I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil,” read the statement. According to a Newsweek article: “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 Gulen extradited.”

Not long after the congratulatory remarks from the Turkish prime minister, Trump, in a phone call with Erdogan in which Ivanka Trump also participated, reportedly praised his business partners—Aydin Dogan, whose group still operates the Trump Towers in Istanbul, and Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, who is Dogan’s son-in-law and has facilitated the Dogan Group’s partnership with the Trump Organization. As Jeremy Venook argued in an Atlantic article: “That [Trump] chose to discuss the towers with Erdogan, albeit obliquely, through his references to his business partners when he has already acknowledged the impropriety of doing so simply reinforces the perception that he may prove unable to separate his business from his official duties while in office.”

Turkey, like other Muslim-majority countries where President Trump has business partnerships, was coincidentally excluded from Trump’s executive order suspending entry to the United States for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Indeed, in a 2016 radio interview with Stephen Bannon, while he was still head of Breitbart News before joining the White House team, Trump admitted to having a conflict of interest in Turkey. “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two,” said Trump at the time.

It has also increasingly come to light that Michael Flynn, a key adviser to the Trump campaign and later the president’s first national security adviser, had plenty of reasons to be beholden to Turkey—considerable conflicts of interest that he failed to disclose as required by federal law. The Associated Press reported on Flynn and his connection to Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is close to President Erdogan:

The retired Army lieutenant general and former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency formally told the Justice Department in March that his now-defunct Flynn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for operating as a foreign agent for Alptekin’s firm, Inovo BV, and performing work that could have benefited the Turkish government. That filing—prompted by Justice Department pressure—came just weeks after Trump fired Flynn from his national security post. The president has said he made the decision after it became clear Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

More troubling, Alptekin not only paid Flynn and his firm close to $600,000 at a time when the retired general was receiving highly classified U.S. government briefings as part of Trump’s campaign team, but Alptekin also has substantial business ties to Russia. This fact further suggests that Flynn, who was ousted from his national security post for failing to disclose his close contacts with the Russian ambassador, may be tainted by money from Moscow as well as Istanbul. Again, and far from coincidentally, on Election Day, Flynn wrote an article for The Hill in which he argued that Fethullah Gulen should be extradited from the United States—a key demand by the Turkish government.

Trump's Conflicts of Interest

Perhaps most disturbingly, Flynn may have delayed a key strategic military operation in Syria against the Islamic State out of fear that it would upset the same Turkish government that was helping to funnel money to him. The United States has been working with the Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to mount an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, despite strong objections from Turkey and President Erdoğan who fear Kurdish separatism in Turkey. In the final days of the Obama administration, Obama officials offered to make the announcement of the joint U.S.-YPG offensive on Raqqa to give the Trump administration a clean slate with the Turks and let them blame everything on the outgoing administration.

Andrew Exum, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the time, explained the situation in an Atlantic article, noting that the Obama administration had worked for two years to find a compromise in which the Turks would be willing to have the YPG armed by Washington but that there was no clearly acceptable compromise. “That’s why Susan Rice told Mike Flynn that we would make the decision in the waning days of the Obama administration so that we could take the blame for the decision and Trump could start with a clean slate. Flynn, who was a paid agent of the Turkish government at the time, declined her offer,” Exum wrote. In short, when it came to the most important bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey, Flynn made a major strategic decision involving U.S. troops in an active war zone without disclosing that he was being paid by the foreign power most directly interested in the United States’ decision. The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Flynn was fired as national security adviser, and, as the Miami Herald noted, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to downplay the red flags, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the administration was repeatedly warned about Flynn’s foreign involvement.”

The Associated Press noted in May 2017, “[F]ormer Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told senators that Flynn’s misstatements about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. raised concerns that he could be targeted for blackmail. Yates also cited the possibility that Flynn could have broken federal law by operating as a paid foreign agent for the Turkish client without U.S. government permission.” It remains inexplicable why President Trump and Vice President Pence would appoint Flynn to such a vital national security post when they knew he was under investigation and had been acting as a paid agent of foreign governments.

Follow the paper trail

According to Trump’s July 2015 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 million in royalties from the Istanbul tower complex for the previous year and owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to this project, including the following:

                Trump Marks Istanbul II Corp., director, chairman, president

                Trump Marks Istanbul II LLC, president, member, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties

According to Trump’s May 2016 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 million in royalties from the Istanbul complex for the previous year and owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to this project, including the following:

                Trump Marks Istanbul II Corp., director, chairman, president

               Trump Marks Istanbul II LLC, president, member, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties

According to both disclosure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties from his Istanbul project for the previous two years, and he—and his children—will presumably continue to receive money from this arrangement.

With Turkey’s democracy under fundamental siege and neighboring Syria still at war, the Trump administration’s judgement on Turkish relations appears to have been deeply clouded by shadowy payments from Istanbul to Flynn and Donald Trump’s own overriding concern for protecting his foreign business interests. These are exactly the kinds of conflicts that hurt America and profit Trump.

John Norris is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Carolyn Kenney is a policy analyst with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center.

Center for American Progress

Reporter’s code: 50101

 

News Code: 16238  |  Date: 2017/06/17  |  Time: 10 : 18

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