Attorney General William Barr attempted to block U.S. prosecution of a Turkish bank last year after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Donald Trump for help in the matter, according to a new CNN report that supports earlier accounts.
Barr personally attempted to head off prosecution of Halkbank in a suspected multibillion-dollar scheme to evade sanctions against Iran, CNN reported, citing “a person familiar with the discussions.” He reportedly tried to steer a settlement that would have allowed the bank to dodge an indictment shortly after Erdogan pressed Trump for help last spring.
Barr ultimately failed to stop an indictment, however. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York insisted on criminal prosecution, CNN reported.
Barr faces increasing criticism for appearing to do Trump’s bidding to manipulate Justice Department cases to punish the president’s enemies or help his allies. In this situation, Barr’s reported efforts seemed aimed at attempting to satisfy the request of an authoritarian foreign leader.
The CNN account appears to ratify a Bloomberg report from last year. After Erdogan pressed Trump for help with the Halkbank case in April, the president told the Turkish leader that Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would handle it, sources told Bloomberg in an article in October.
Mnuchin’s office has confirmed to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that Treasury officials became involved in the case at Trump’s direction, according to a letter Wyden wrote last week to Barr. Officials also revealed that Trump, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Mnuchin met with Turkey’s finance minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law in the Oval Office in April, though they did not reveal details of the meeting, according to Wyden.
Barr directed Halkbank officials how to work out a deal, Bloomberg reported. But the bank failed to do so and was ultimately charged in October with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses by Berman’s office.
The charges followed Turkey’s invasion of Syria and political blowback for Trump. The indictment was filed a day after Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey for the Syria incursion.
Former national security adviser John Bolton expressed concerns last year that Trump was doing personal favors for the “autocratic” leaders of Turkey and China, according to draft of a manuscript for his upcoming book obtained by The New York Times.
Bolton wrote that he complained to Barr about his fears. Barr referred to the Halkbank case and told Bolton that Trump may have been exaggerating his influence in what was supposed to be an independent investigation by the Justice Department, according to the manuscript.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department denied that the conversation occurred.
Wyden’s letter to Barr demands answers to a series of questions for his investigation into Trump for “possible improper interference” in the Halkbank case.
Barr’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on the CNN report.
The attorney general has come under intensifying pressure after the Justice Department last week overturned a sentencing recommendation by its own prosecutors of seven to nine years for Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime pal. Stone was convicted of seven felonies, including lying to investigators and witness tampering.
Barr has since ordered a review of the case against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who initially pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his communication with the Russian ambassador before Trump was sworn into office. Flynn withdrew his guilty plea last month.