By this stage, the “bromance” between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as former National Security Adviser John Bolton described it as, is well documented.
At a recent roundtable meeting, Trump hosted pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested in October 2016 in Turkey and on orders of Erdoğan was held for two years on charges of complicity with the Fethullah Gülen movement and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). At the meeting, Trump said to Brunson that Erdoğan “is very good,” despite imprisoning the pastor for two years.
Last month, Trump also said in an interview on Fox News that he gets “along” with Erdoğan and that the Turkish president “listens” to him, prompting people to question why then Trump has not ordered Erdoğan to deescalate tensions with Greece.
Only days ago, Trump did not hide away from his close relationship with his Turkish counterpart, saying that he gets along with Erdoğan “very well.”
However, what exactly is driving the Trump-Erdogan “bromance”?
An investigative report conducted by European watchdog Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found that Erdoğan’s government through Brian Ballard, Trump’s close confidant, have become one of the most powerful lobbyist in Washington.
The report revealed that a lunch meeting at Washington’s Watergate Hotel the day before Trump’s inauguration was held between Ballard and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, as well as with Lev Parnas, a Florida businessman with connections to Ukraine, as well as Mübariz Mansimov, a Turkish-Azerbaijani shipping magnate now on trial in Turkey on terrorism charges.
“The meeting on January 19, 2017, which has never before been disclosed, was key to building a close relationship between the administrations of Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It has perhaps been the most successful foreign lobbying effort of the Trump presidency — no mean feat for an administration mired from the beginning in foreign influence scandals,” the report wrote.
“There was a lot of bodyguards, Turkish bodyguards,” Parnas recalled in an interview. “It was in a little restaurant. We went in. [Çavuşoğlu] was sitting in the restaurant with a couple of other Turkish dignitaries.”
“Mübariz introduced Brian Ballard as ‘Trump’s number one guy,’” Parnas said of the top Trump fundraiser from Florida, whom Politico dubbed “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.”
“The warm relationship that followed would see Trump administration officials, and the president himself, make decisions that baffled advisers who believed they put Erdoğan’s interests over America’s,” the report titled Behind Trump’s Turkish ‘Bromance’: Oligarchs, Crooks, and a Multi-Million-Dollar Lobbying Deal, said.
“The upshot of Turkey’s outreach has been a Trump administration that has often been strikingly receptive to the interests of Erdoğan’s authoritarian government,” the report said.
Carl Bernstein, a veteran journalist who helped break the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, reported in June that Erdoğan has enjoyed a level of telephone access to the U.S. president unrivaled by any other foreign leader.
“By far the greatest number of Trump’s telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump,” Bernstein wrote.