In Impeachment’s Shadow, Trump and Erdoğan Share ‘Deep State’ Fixation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to reporters in Ankara on Tuesday before a visit to the United States. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) – When the U.S. House of Representatives launches open hearings into its impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, President Donald Trump will be hosting a head of state who shares his obsession about the so-called “deep state.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is landing Washington for a visit to the White House, has used its specter to discredit his perceived opponents in the military, judiciary, law enforcement and the press.

“When Turks talk about the ‘deep state,’ they’re not just talking about factions or cliques within the government bureaucracy,” former Turkish parliamentarian Aykan Erdemir told Courthouse News in an interview inside his Washington office. “They’re talking about concrete cases of pogroms, violence, assassinations carried out by elements within the state.”

Now a senior follow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Erdemir cited as one example the Istanbul pogrom of 1955, during which organized mob attacks targeted the city’s Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish minorities.

“Possibly, if we stick to that level, it might be a legitimate concept,” Erdemir added.

Originating from the Turkish concept of the “derin devlet,” the deep state has taken on newfound significance in Erdoğan’s Turkey and Trump’s United States. Erdoğan exploited fears of this shadowy collective to consolidate power after being implicated in a 2013 corruption scandal, after Istanbul prosecutors implicated his allies in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party in a bribery scheme.

“As a former Turkish politician, I see a very sloppy use of the term,” Erdemir explained, referring to its current use in both the United States and Turkey.

The concept had never caught on in mainstream U.S. discourse until Trump, who has referred to the deep state in more than a dozen tweets as an inchoate mass of perceived political, press and bureaucratic opponents.

“Tonight, we forcefully condemn the blatant corruption of the Democrat Party, the Fake News Media, and the rogue bureaucrats of the Deep State,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 17, the night of a rally in Texas.

The proliferation of such references in U.S. politics gave Erdemir pause.

“One of the reasons that I feel this unease every time I see the word ‘deep state’ used in the U.S.A., it often is an unpronounced objection to checks and balances,” the ex-Turkish parliamentarian observed. “Instead of attacking separation of powers, instead of attacking checks and balances, people attack an imaginary ‘deep state.’”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Erdoğan has “cultivated” Trump by emphasizing what they perceive to be their shared struggles.

“The U.S. has an established order that we can call a deep state – of course they are obstructing,” Erdoğan was quoted in the Times.

In addition to sharing messaging, Trump and Erdoğan have been linked to the same messengers. Ballard Partners, a firm labeled the “Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington,” is run by the president’s top Florida fundraiser and has represented both the Turkish embassy and Halkbank, Turkey’s state-run bank.

Mercury Public Affairs hired a former Trump communications director from the transition team to represent a Turkish state-run business association that held two annual conferences inside Trump’s Washington hotel. Led by Ivanka Trump’s business partner Mehmet Ali Yalçindağ, the Turkey U.S. Business Council hosted Jared Kushner and his Turkish counterpart, Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, at their last conference this past April.

A Courthouse News investigation found that Turkey’s lobbying in the United States swelled enormously during the Trump presidency, largely in firms linked to both leaders. The top five recipients in Turkish government-linked money among the firms saw those contracts more than quadruple from 2014 to 2018.

For Erdoğan, the Trump presidency represents the single branch of U.S. government where Turkey has found a cordial reception.

Turkey’s state-run Halkbank is being prosecuted in New York for what prosecutors have described as the biggest money laundering conspiracy ever charged in U.S. history.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating whether the Trump administration tried to interfere with the prosecution of that crime.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act with Wyden, denouncing the Turkish government’s abuse of counterterrorism powers to target political rivals.

“President Trump has shown time and time again that he will cozy up to authoritarian rulers,” Markey said in a statement. “He should rescind the invitation for President Erdoğan to visit the White House and make it clear that Turkey’s record on human rights is unacceptable.”

NBA center Enes Kanter, who faces an Interpol red notice from the Turkish government seeking his arrest, joined in the announcement as a former constituent for both senators. Kanter played for the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics this year.

Punning on Kanter’s athletics, Wyden remarked: “We are here today to put a full-court press on President Erdoğan to stop the human rights abuses that the Turkish people and others are facing,” a fight over which he added the U.S. government cannot “sit on the sidelines.”

Seven Democrats are still waiting to learn whether the Trump Organization will cooperate with their request for information about how the president is profiting from Trump Towers Istanbul.

Erdoğan remains a deeply unpopular figure with both parties on Capitol Hill, particularly among Democrats. The House overwhelming passed legislation to recognize the Armenian genocide, sanction Turkey and commission a report into Erdoğan’s assets.

Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the sole Democratic holdout on those two bills, was sharply criticized for those two votes and has since taken a stronger line against Erdoğan, signing a letter urging Trump to rescind his invitation to the Turkish leader.

“Domestically, President Erdoğan has overseen a systematic rollback of democratic institutions in Turkey, concentrating all political power in his person, persecuting political opponents and peaceful protesters, and imprisoning journalists in shocking numbers,” the scorching three-page letter read.

Led by New York Representative Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, more than a dozen elected officials across the aisle signed the letter.

While the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence leads the impeachment inquiry, the Foreign Affairs Committee likely will be taking a veiled swipe at Turkey’s autocratic rise on Wednesday with a hearing titled, “Democracy and the NATO Alliance: Upholding our Shared Democratic Values.” The hearing coincides with Erdoğan’s visit to the White House.

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