MANHATTAN (CN) – A 2015 radio interview from the Donald Trump campaign trail has been political dynamite for those who believe the president has ulterior motives when it comes to his policy on Turkey.
“I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul, and it’s a tremendously successful job,” Trump disclosed in a Dec. 1, 2015, interview alongside his future campaign chief, Steve Bannon. “It’s called Trump Towers. Two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been prime minister at the property’s ribbon-cutting in 2012, receiving a thank-you for his attendance from Ivanka Trump on Twitter. Audio from the interview has been replayed on U.S. major networks whenever Trump steers U.S. foreign policy in an Erdogan-friendly direction.
What Trump declared after that comment, however, has been largely forgotten and was equally ominous.
“Turkey looks like they’re on the side of ISIS, more or less, based on the oil,” Trump told Bannon, who would briefly became Trump’s chief White House strategist.
That allegation did not stop Trump from praising Erdogan as a "strong leader."
Last week, some four years after that interview, President Trump spoke to Erdogan on the phone and then gave his blessing for Turkey to invade territory in northern Syria held by the Kurds, a people historically considered U.S. allies.
Trump has been trying to mitigate the explosive political fallout of that decision ever since. His Republican allies and Democratic foes alike have warned that the Turkish operation gives ISIS, otherwise known as the Islamic State group, a chance to regroup.
“This president is caging kids at the border and letting ISIS run free,” Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro declared in one of the most scathing and quotable lines of a debate with a dozen fellow candidates Tuesday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S. ally that Turkey considers to be an offshoot of a terrorist group, had been guarding ISIS fighters, before being forced into a clash with Turkish Armed Forces. A video released by SDF showed those ISIS fighters escaping an overcrowded prison in northern Syria after bombing by Turkey.
Even Trump’s friends, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, raised the specter of a “strategic calamity” in the making.
“For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate,” McConnell said Monday. “Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS.”