U.S. Senators question Trump's interests in Turkey

Four U.S. senators from the Democratic Party have requested information on the Trump family’s business dealings in Turkey, citing a potential conflict of interest during a sensitive time in U.S.- Turkish relations.

Senate Democrats Tom Udall, Tammy Duckworth, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal, in a letter sent on Tuesday, requested Trump Organization Executive Vice President Jill A. Martin to disclose information on the Trump family’s real estate in Istanbul, NBC news reported on Tuesday.

The lawmakers are looking to understand whether Trump’s foreign policy decisions "are being influenced by potential conflicts of interest," it said.

The lawmakers cited Trump’s Oct. 6 decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria and delayed action in a money laundering case involving Turkish state-owned Halkbank among the reasons for the request.

Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria allowed Turkey to carry out a military offensive in the region targeting Kurdish forces.

A U.S. federal court on Tuesday indicted Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank with fraud, money laundering and complicity in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. The indictment followed months of inaction over the case, prompting reports of negotiations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart.

It was a phone call between Trump and Erdoğan that prompted the U.S. president to order his troops out of Syria. Sources in Washington say that one or more Trump-Erdoğan phone conversations may be under investigation in search of possible quid pro quo deals, similar to Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has opened the way to impeachment hearings.

Trump's first national security adviser Mike Flynn was later revealed to have worked as a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government.  

Politico said in April 2017 that Flynn's employer Ekim Alptekin had business dealings in Russia and worked with an executive in Russian oil companies on Turkish lobbying projects. 


The man, Ekim Alptekin, has in recent years helped to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington with Dmitri “David” Zaikin, a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies who also has had dealings with Putin’s government, according to three people with direct knowledge of the activities.

Washington-based international political consultant John Moreira, talking to Politico, said he had helped Zaikin set up the Turkish Heritage Organisation (THO), a new Turkish NGO managed by Ali Cinar, a long-time Turkish-American leader. THO has worked for Turkey's ruling party, hosted visiting Turkish official delegations and arranged meetings with U.S. officials. Both THO and Alptekin denied any involvement with Zaikin, or a Russian connection with the Turkish lobbying efforts.

Turkish businessman Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ is another point of interest. Yalçındağ worked as the director general of Turkey’s Doğan Media Group until he had to step down in 2016 when leaked emails showed he had been reporting daily developments at the private media conglomerate to a rival pro-Erdoğan media group. 

Yalçındağ is the son-in-law of Aydın Doğan, the former owner of the media group, which was purchased in April 2018 by a conglomerate close to Erdoğan. Yalçındağ was selected as the new head of Turkish-American Business Council in March of 2018. Since then, he has spent most of his time in the United States and many see him as an important channel between Trump and Erdoğan. There are several reasons why people see him that way. 

Yalçındağ is also known in Turkey as a partner of Trump since the Doğan Group is the owner Trump Towers in Istanbul.

Donald Trump Jr., after his father's election victory in Nov. 2016, visited the southern Turkish resort of Antalya for a hunting trip, at the invitation of a Turkish businessman.

That Turkish businessman's identity is still unknown, though Trump's son confirmed the hunting trip during a recent Congressional testimony, in which he could not pronounce the last name of the Turkish businessman. Consequently, the transcript does not reveal the name.