Erdoğan ‘took Trump to the cleaners’ in phone calls – U.S. senior officials

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to take advantage of U.S. President Donald Trump on various matters through unlimited phone call access and outplaying him in their conversations, CNN reported on Monday.

Trump’s consistent lack of preparation to discuss and tackle serious issues with world leaders like Erdoğan left him susceptible to being taken advantage of and posed a danger to U.S. national security, CNN said, citing White House and intelligence officials familiar with the contents of the conversations. 

Two sources said Erdoğan’s ability to get his way with Trump – who lacked sufficient knowledge of Middle East issues and nuanced diplomatic discussion – was directly linked to U.S. policy in Syria, particularly the withdrawal of U.S. troops that left Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies exposed to a Turkish military incursion.

"Erdoğan took him to the cleaners," said one of the sources.

Trump and Erdoğan also spoke during more than one phone conversation about a legal case involving Turkish state-run lender Halkbank, an institution with suspected ties to Turkey’s president and his family, according to a high-level source, who added that there were existing summaries and conversation-readouts of those discussions.

CNN said the records reinforced allegations made by former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who wrote in his new memoir “The Room Where It Happened” that Erdoğan urged Trump to interfere in an investigation by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman into Halkbank for allegedly violating Iranian sanctions.

“Trump then told Erdoğan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Bolton wrote, referring to U.S. officials appointed by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Trump fired Berman on June 20.

Erdoğan’s direct access to Trump – sometimes telephoning him at least twice a week – also alarmed the U.S. president’s advisers with how easily the Turkish leader bypassed American security protocols and procedures to reach him, CNN’s sources said.

The officials said Erdoğan’s timing when calling Trump was so strategic that White House aides became convinced that Turkish intelligence informed Erdoğan of Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to find an opening, such as contacting him during rounds of golf.

Relations between Trump and Erdoğan were not always amicable, according to CNN, which cited cases involving Turkish demands for preferential trade status and Ankara’s resistance to releasing an American pastor imprisoned for allegedly playing a role in a 2016 failed coup to overthrow Erdoğan.

Despite Erdoğan’s lack of notice for many of the phone calls, voice-generated computer texts and scripts written by White House notetakers on the leaders’ phone conversations exist, CNN sources said.