Amsterdam admitted to having paid for it but claimed that it never went up because of pressure from Gülen’s organization.
Alliance for Shared Values, an umbrella organization associated with Gülen’s movement, responded that they were "not aware," but "not surprised," that Amsterdam attempted to put that message near the cleric's home.
"Through his agents, the Erdoğan government made several attempts to defame and harass Mr. Gülen and visitors to the retreat center where he lives," the group's executive director Alp Aslandogan said. "These efforts include organizing loud and profane protests, mailing defamatory fliers to neighbors, flying planes with defamatory signs and showing a defamatory film at a local theater."
The Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet, the Turkish word for service, describes itself as a group dedicated to interfaith dialogue. The Obama administration rebuffed Turkish pressure to extradite Gülen, with former Vice President Joe Biden emphasizing the U.S. courts require due process and evidence of wrongdoing.
"Only a federal court can do that," Biden said in August 2016. "Nobody else can do that. If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers."
Referring to the multimillion-dollar campaign against Gülen, Aslandogan added: "If the facts were on the Erdoğan government’s side, they would have spent far less and had even an ounce of success.”
Reaching out to major TV, radio and print outlets, Amsterdam’s subcontractor Stroud Communications helped tout his book titled “Empire of Deceit,” accusing Gülen-affiliated charter schools of fraud. The title inspired the parody website “Empire of the Deceit” by Amsterdam’s critics, quoting a Globe & Mail editorial that describes the Canadian attorney as a “legal gun-for-hire and a public relations svengali.”
Mercury Public Affairs, which made more than $87,000 from its contract with Amsterdam, later registered as a foreign agent for work with two Turkish clients directly. The firm made $1.6 million the year after announcing a major hire, Bryan Lanza, who served as Trump’s communications director on the presidential transition team.
Both times that Trump announced a troop withdrawal from Syria — moves in late 2018 and 2019 that stunned top U.S. security officials — Trump had just spoken on the phone with Erdoğan, and Mercury rushed to defend the decision.
Mercury, which has not responded to press inquiries, circulated an editorial by top Turkish diplomat Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu describing the United States’ longtime Kurdish allies as terrorists and another by Erdoğan, printed in The New York Times.
Business or Pleasure at Trump Hotel?
Having a new agent with deep ties in the Trump White House paid dividends for Mercury Public Affairs in taking on two major Turkish nonprofit groups as clients: Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK) and the American Turkish Council (ATC).
Every year, both charities join forces to host a lavish U.S.-Turkish Conference that brings together powerful military, business and political figures from both countries to mingle and discuss the future of bilateral relations. The last two conferences took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
TAIK’s current chairman Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ is Ivanka Trump’s former business partner for Trump Tower Istanbul. Alptekin, who was indicted in Flynn's "Truth Campaign," is a former chair.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Mercury had to disclose all of its contacts with government officials and media representatives. Lanza repeatedly called and emailed the Commerce Department’s Deputy Secretary Earl Comstock on behalf of TAIK in 2018.
The next year, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would be one of the conference’s “Distinguished Guests,” posing in a photograph next to Yalcindag.
Turkish Coalition of America, which organizes the 109-member-strong “Turkey Caucus” of U.S. Congress members, struggled for cash for much of this past decade, reporting negative revenue in 2014 and 2016. In 2017, the charity reported $4.6 million in revenue, by far the largest in that decade, after receiving a large grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation, another Washington-based charity.
The coalition’s president Lincoln McCurdy emphasized that the charity complies with nonprofit rules in service of its mission to promote public education.
“TCA’s limited lobbying efforts are fully independent and are neither coordinated with nor controlled by any other organization or lobbying campaign, including that of the government of Turkey,” McCurdy, a former consul for commercial affairs at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, said in an email.
The lobbying expenditures reported by the group represent a small fraction of what it spends in total.
Turkish Heritage Organization, a new nonprofit that sprung up in 2015, burst quickly into prominence with more than $3 million in contributions over the course of three years.
When the House was still controlled by Republicans in 2017, its Committee of Foreign Affairs heard testimony from the organization's president, Ali Cinar, about the supposed threat to Turkey’s democracy from Gülen and Kurdish militants, not its strongman leader, Erdoğan.
“There is no Turkish legislation that includes any provision that would lead to imprisonment of journalists on account of their journalistic work,” Cinar told Congress.
Under Turkey’s penal code, insulting the president is a crime, and Erdoğan’s government by then had become the world’s leading press jailer for two years running. It has held onto that record ever since.
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