Senator Wyden Seeks John Bolton’s Evidence in Halkbank Probe

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing on May 5. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

(CN) — Former national security adviser John Bolton may have avoided testifying at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, but Senator Ron Wyden urged the erstwhile ambassador on Monday to join him in the room where investigations happen. 

As the Senate Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Wyden asked Bolton to discuss claims from his 2020 book that Trump tried to scuttle a record-breaking money-laundering prosecution as a favor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  

“In connection with this investigation, I request that Amb. Bolton provide all relevant records including, but not limited to, notes, documents, and electronic communications — related to these matters and the allegations made in his book concerning them,” Wyden wrote in a 2-page letter to Bolton’s attorney. “I also request that he participate in a voluntary, transcribed, staff interview at a mutually convenient date and time.” 

In a separate letter made public Monday, Wyden slammed Attorney General William Barr for ignoring more than five months of his inquiries. 

“The Department’s failure to cooperate with these reasonable requests for information related to ongoing investigations raises serious concerns about the Department’s independence and willingness to engage with Congress in good faith in a manner that facilitates effective oversight,” Wyden told Barr. 

Despite Barr’s stonewalling, Bolton’s disclosures in his recently published book suggest Wyden’s overtures to him could be more promising. 

Throughout his memoir “The Room Where It Happen,” Bolton wrote about “Trump’s penchant to, in effect, do personal favors for dictators he liked,” putting the case against Turkey’s state-run Halkbank first on that list. 

“In particular, Amb. Bolton asserts that President Trump promised Erdoğan he would use his authority to halt any further enforcement actions against the bank, and that President Trump consequently instructed Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to interfere in the matter,” Wyden notes in his letter. 

“Further, Amb. Bolton asserts that on more than one occasion the Department of Justice was aware of Secretary Mnuchin’s efforts to halt the investigation and prosecution of Halkbank.” 

Responding to Wyden’s probe in November, Mnuchin disclosed having at least seven meetings with top Turkish officials, including one with Erdoğan in the Oval Office and three with the strongman’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is also Turkey’s finance minister. 

“Even more troubling, President Trump, Secretary Mnuchin, and Jared Kushner held this White House meeting despite the fact that Albayrak, along with President Erdoğan, appear to be personally implicated in the Halkbank scheme,” Wyden wrote.  

As Bolton noted, the Halkbank investigation “threatened Erdoğan himself” because he and his relatives like Albayrak had been implicated in the money-laundering scheme. 

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani represented the gold trader who spearheaded the conspiracy, Reza Zarrab, and shuttled between the Oval Office and Turkey to negotiate a prisoner swap that could have terminated the case. 

Zarrab became a key U.S. government witness to the sanctions-busting scheme after that effort failed, but Bolton said that Trump promised Erdoğan at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires the following year to keep trying to undermine the case. 

“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’s book alleges.  

Wyden says his investigation uncovered Barr’s role in this effort.  

“According to Treasury officials in a November 20, 2019 letter to me, President Trump assigned you to assist with President Erdoğan’s requests involving Halkbank, and that he relayed this to Erdoğan during an April 2019 phone call,” Wyden wrote. “Around June of 2019, you also reportedly had a phone call with your Turkish counterpart, Abdulhamit Gul, where you discussed Turkey accepting a deferred prosecution agreement, and that a deal would need to be made with the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.” 

CNN reported that federal prosecutors in New York indicted Halkbank over Barr’s objections on Oct. 15, days after Trump announced his Syria withdrawal and Turkey’s incursion into territory held by America’s Kurdish allies set off a political firestorm. 

“I am concerned that absent these unrelated actions by the Turkish government, the administration’s interference in favor of Turkey’s Halkbank requests could have undermined years of effort by U.S. law enforcement, and may still do so,” Wyden wrote.  

Wyden set no deadline for Bolton to respond to his request, but he asked Barr to do so by Sept. 14. 

As the senator’s probe continues, Halkbank’s prosecution prepares for trial early next year. 

Neither the Justice Department nor Charles Cooper, an attorney for Bolton at the firm Cooper & Kirk, have returned requests for comment.

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