Turkish anti-Gülen lobbyists target U.S. state capitals

Lobbyists aligned with the Turkish government have sought meetings with leading officials in 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in a drive to combat Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen’s influence in the United States, journalist Liz Essler Whyte has reported for the Center for Public Integrity.

“Federal records show Turkey’s lawyers requested meetings in January 2018 with politicians in 26 states and the District of Columbia, including attorneys general, influential legislators and at least one governor — Michigan’s Rick Snyder,” Whyte reported.

“The legal team has already sat down with an official in the Arizona attorney general’s office, worked on legislation in Texas and attended school board meetings in California, Louisiana and Massachusetts,” she said.

The intense lobbying is part of Turkey’s global war on Gülen’s religious movement, which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government says has been behind a series of attempts to overthrow it.

Since the latest of these – the failed coup attempt in July 2016 – a crackdown that has seen tens of thousands of alleged Gülenists purged or jailed has gone international, with dozens of members of the movement extradited or abducted from countries around the world.

Gülen and representatives of his movement have vehemently denied any connection to the coup attempt.

Turkey has also placed pressure on the United States to extradite Gülen himself, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999. Its attempts in this direction made headlines around the world last year when it was revealed that Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser for U.S. President Donald Trump, had accepted over $500,000 illegally to lobby against the preacher, and had even discussed abducting him.

The meetings reported by Whyte are likely part of another angle in the war with the Gülen movement, which has a strong presence in the United States built through extensive lobbying and business interests including a network of hundreds of charter schools.

Turkey has engaged Robert Amsterdam’s law firm to lead its lobbying efforts in the United States, and the Canadian international lawyer has produced a book “Empire of Deceit,” that it says proves massive cases of fraud and illegal use of work visas by these school networks.

The lobbyists are also reportedly attempting to bring onside U.S. lawmakers who have a history dealing with the Gülen movement.

Whyte reported that John Martin, a lawyer representing Turkey, approached Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for a meeting. Madigan had been on four trips sponsored by the Gülen movement, and had even appeared in a promotional video for one of their schools.

“One of our intended messages is, ‘Hey, look, you may have taken a trip with these folks or you may have even received a political contribution,’” Whyte quoted Martin as saying. “‘We’re here to inform you and let you know who these people are so that the next time your eyes are wide open.’”