The White House is looking for ways to remove the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen from the U.S., NBC reports, to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania on a residency status since 1990’s, is President Tayyip Erdoğan’s number one enemy. Ankara has been pressing for his extradition for years.
The NBC report cites two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the matter.
Here is a summary of the exclusive story:
“Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing Gulen.
White House specifically wanted details about Gulen’s residency status in the U.S. (Gulen is known to have a Green Card).
However, career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests.
‘At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,’ said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.
One option that Turkish and Trump administration officials recently discussed is forcing Gulen to relocate to South Africa rather than sending him directly to Turkey if extradition is not possible, said the U.S. officials and people briefed on the discussions. But the U.S. does not have any legal justification to send Gulen to South Africa, they said, so that wouldn’t be a viable option unless he went willingly.
After Khashoggi’s murder, Erdogan appeared to see an opportunity to ratchet up pressure on the Trump administration over Gulen.
Turkish officials made clear to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his Oct. 17 meeting with Erdogan in Ankara that they wanted the Trump administration to turn over Gulen.
‘That was their number one ask,’ said a person briefed on the meeting.
Pompeo asked if Erdogan had new evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the failed coup, prompting the Turkish leader to try to make the case that Gulen has terrorist ties, a senior U.S. official briefed on the meeting said.
In remarks to reporters traveling with him, Pompeo acknowledged having discussed Gulen with the Turks. ‘But it’s mostly not a State Department issue; it’s mostly a Justice Department issue’ Pompeo said.
The Trump administration later sent word to Erdogan that officials would re-examine the Gulen issue.
Justice Department officials responded to the White House’s request saying the review of Turkey’s case against Gulen two years ago showed no basis for his extradition and that no new evidence to justify it has emerged.
They said the White House specifically wanted details about the terms under which Gulen resides in the U.S. Officials from the law enforcement agencies informed the White House there is no evidence that Gulen has broken any U.S. laws.
Turkey provided boxes of materials to the U.S. in 2016 that Erdogan says shows Gulen was behind the failed coup. But officials at the Justice Department and FBI didn’t find evidence that met the standard for extradition, which requires U.S. prosecutors to determine that someone committed crimes abroad that would also be illegal in the U.S.
Erdogan said this past weekend that he’s given Turkey’s audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate to U.S., U.K., Saudi, French and German government officials. His comments were a public reminder of the evidence Erdogan could expose at a time of his choosing, if he wanted to put pressure on the U.S. or Saudi Arabia. .
Saudi Arabia has yet to disclose the location of Khashoggi’s remains, and Turkey continues to put public pressure on Riyadh.
A Turkish official said the government does not link its concerns about the Khashoggi murder with Gulen’s extradition case.
‘We definitely see no connection between the two,’ the official said.”
National Security Council, the FBI, The State Department, Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, a lawyer representing Gulen all declined to comment on the NBC story.
According to the NBC the secret effort to resolve one of the leading tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations -Gulen’s residency in the U.S.- suggests the White House could be looking for ways to contain Erdogan’s ire over the murder while preserving Trump’s close alliance with Saudi Arabia’s controversial de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.