Bolton Exclusives 5: ‘Hit ‘em, finish ‘em,’ Trump said as Turkey held Brunson - Bolton
Having spent a “considerable effort” on securing the release of Andrew Brunson, the pastor who was jailed for two and a half years in Turkey on terror and spying allegations, U.S. President Donald Trump considered taking more unorthodox diplomatic steps, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said in his new book, “The Room Where It Happened.” Ahval has obtained a copy of the book ahead of its planned publication next week.
In August 2018, the United States imposed sanctions on top Turkish officials who were involved in the detention of Brunson and raised tariffs on Turkish goods.
But, according to Bolton, Trump was around then also considering other options for “increasing the heat regarding Brunson,” including steps such as closing the embassy, cancelling Turkey’s F-35 fighter jet contract, and, by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s suggestion, declaring Turkey’s ambassador persona non grata.
“In a few days, however, Trump reversed course, deciding against doing anything on our embassy or Turkey’s ambassador, instead returning to the idea of more sanctions,” Bolton said.
“You have it on Turkey,” Trump told Bolton. “Hit ‘em, finish ‘em. You got it.”
The U.S. president left his then-security adviser to “basically, figure out what to do”. Trump also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and told her that “(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan was being very obtuse on the Brunson issue,” and informed her of the United States’ intention to impose “substantial sanctions”.
“The Qataris, who were extending Turkey a massive financial lifeline, also volunteered to help on Brunson,” Bolton said, “but it was hard to see their effort having any success.”
Brunson was under house arrest, after having spent years in Turkish prisons over an alleged connection to followers of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamic cleric who was a longstanding ally of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but now stands accused by them of having masterminded a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
“There was very little progress diplomatically,” Bolton said, on the United States’ efforts to have Brunson released, “even as the effects of sanctions … continued to wreak havoc across Turkey’s economy.”
On October 12, 2018, a Turkish court - “bizarrely,” according to Bolton - convicted Brunson of espionage, only to release him based on mitigating factors. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defence Department was preparing to charter a plane in Germany for the repatriation of the Brunson family.
“This outcome showed that the political fix was in: Erdoğan’s claim Brunson was a spy had been ‘vindicated’ for his domestic political purposes, but Brunson went free,” Bolton said.
Upon hearing the news, “Trump was ecstatic,” Bolton said, “immediately tweeting away, mixed in with a tweet about why Ivanka would be a great U.N. ambassador.”
Brunson was taken back to the United States after spending a night in Germany, and he then visited the White House. Bolton said:
“The Brunsons went to the residence to meet Trump and then walked with him along the colonnade to the Oval Office, where those assembled greeted them with cheers. The press mob entered as the pastor and the president talked. At the end, Brunson knelt next to Trump’s chair, put his arm on Trump’s shoulder, and prayed for him, which, needless to say, was the photo du jour. So the Brunson matter never ended, but bilateral relations with Turkey were at their lowest ebb ever.”
Even so, Bolton said: “With the Brunson matter now six weeks behind us, the two leaders met bilaterally on December 1 (2018) at the Buenos Aires G20 summit, largely discussing Halkbank,” Bolton said, continuing with details on the federal case against the state-run Turkish bank, which was indicted of involvement in a complex scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran between 2011 and 2016. According to Bolton, Trump promised Erdoğan he would intervene in the case.
Bolton’s book also revealed more information on Turkey's demands on Fethullah Gülen the dispute over the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and the Halkbank case; he also provided details on U.S. Syria policy, Erdoğan's influence over Trump's withdrawal decision, Erdoğan's war on Syrian Kurds and his efforts to undermine the fight against ISIS. Bolton also likened Erdoğan to Benito Mussolini and called him a dictator.