Rudy Giuliani repeatedly urged President Donald Trump in 2017 to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, to Turkey — a move that would have fulfilled a top priority of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Erdogan has accused Gulen, a U.S. permanent resident, of plotting a failed military coup against him in 2016. Gulen has denied the allegation.
The Turkish leader pressed both former President Barack Obama and Trump to eject Gulen so he can face trial in Turkey. After Obama refused to comply, Erdogan lamented in 2016 that he’d grown “disillusioned” with U.S. leadership.
Trump — who recently pulled U.S. troops from northern Syria, opening the door for Erdogan to launch an offensive there — has reportedly sought ways to extradite Gulen from the U.S. in an effort to appease Ankara. NBC News reported last November that officials in the Trump administration had asked federal law enforcement agencies to look into legal ways to expel the cleric, an effort to assuage Turkey over the Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Turkish soil.
Trump denied the report, however, saying that Erdogan was a “friend of mine,” but ejecting Gulen was “not under consideration.”
The Washington Post, citing multiple former administration officials, reported Tuesday that Trump had appeared to be “receptive” to Giuliani’s frequent suggestions that Gulen be extradited, but that other administration officials were vehemently opposed to the idea.
It’s unclear why Giuliani — who has also come under scrutiny in recent weeks for his role in persuading Ukraine to dig up dirt on 2020 presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden ― was so fixated on the Gulen issue.
Former officials said the subject was brought up so often by the former New York mayor that aides became concerned that he was lobbying Trump on behalf of the Turkish government. At one point in 2017, officials even requested he stop raising the issue with the president, the Post reported, citing a source familiar with the exchange.
When the Post asked Giuliani whether he’d asked Trump about Gulen, he said in a text message that he “can’t comment on it that would be complete attorney client privilege but sounds wacky.”
Giuliani, who joined the president’s legal team in 2018, isn’t the first Trump ally to push for Gulen’s extradition. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, lobbied on behalf of Turkey while working for the Trump campaign in 2016. That effort included writing an op-ed in The Hill on Election Day in which he lambasted Gulen as a “shady,” “radical Islamist.”
“The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gulen, who is running a scam,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven.”
A few months after that piece was published, Flynn, who would later also plead guilty to lying to the FBI, filed paperwork with the Justice Department acknowledging that he’d received $530,000 from a Turkish company to do work that may have benefited the Turkish government in the months leading up to Election Day.