Though Trump, Pence and Sekulow touted their fortitude for the breakthrough, one of the president’s top Florida fundraisers aggressively lobbied Turkey's position throughout this time frame. Turkey continued to hold three U.S. consulate workers in captivity with relative silence from the White House, and Halkbank kept an indictment at bay for more than two years, even after its ex-general manager Suleyman Aslan and executive Atilla had been charged with the multibillion-dollar conspiracy.
Via his organization the American Center for Law and Justice, Sekulow did not respond to a detailed inquiry asking about Trump, Pence’s and his communications with Ballard.
In addition to lobbying, Halkbank retained considerable firepower from Trump-connected Big Law.
Since 2014, Greenberg Traurig has registered as an agent of the Turkish government, and its former partner Rudy Giuliani represented gold trader Reza Zarrab, who spearheaded the Halkbank conspiracy. The firm insisted that it maintained an “ethical wall” between its legal representation and its lobbying, but critics found it difficult to discern a distinction between Giuliani’s representation of Zarrab and political advocacy.
Never appearing in court, Giuliani shuttled between Washington and Turkey’s capital of Ankara on Zarrab’s behalf. He disclosed his meetings with Erdoğan and top U.S. and Turkish diplomats in court filings. Giuliani’s Oval Office meeting with Trump to try to trade Zarrab for Brunson would come to light two years later, in news reports broken by Bloomberg and matched by The New York Times and Washington Post.
Public records corroborate those anonymously sourced accounts of White House involvement. The Post reported that the Oval Office meeting took place in the fall of 2017, around the time that records showed contacts between Ballard lobbyists and Trump’s then-deputy Sean Cairncross and assistant Reed Cordish. After meeting with Cairncross that August, Ballard emailed Cordish in October.
Reportedly a key participant in the Oval Office meeting, Giuliani would execute what critics called Trump’s “shadow diplomacy,” allegedly pushing the president’s personal interests in meetings with foreign heads of state. The former New York City mayor left Greenberg Traurig in May 2018 to work for Trump exclusively.
Other Trump-tied law firms appear in Halkbank’s orbit: Halkbank paid for McDermott Will and Emery to defend Atilla, before he was convicted. McDermott represented Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen.
King & Spalding disclosed having represented Halkbank in connection with the Justice Department’s investigation in a filing revealed on Monday. The letter was signed by Andrew Hruska, a former federal prosecutor in New York who signed as an agent of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Nov. 21, 2017.
Within days of that contract, Zarrab delivered testimony implicating Turkey’s president in a vast financial crime, and the firm would soon register as a foreign agent. King & Spalding’s disclosure stated the firm had been “retained to prepare and present a proposal to the U.S. Department of Justice for cooperation between the governments of the United States and Turkey regarding the handling of a U.S. legal matter.”
According to FARA records obtained by the firm Caplin & Drysdale, that matter involved an attempt to stop the Atilla case from going to trial in exchange for Turkish law enforcement cooperation on anti-Iran sanctions.
Though it reported ending its relationship with the Turkish foreign ministry on Dec. 31, 2017, King & Spalding’s relationship with Halkbank extended years longer. Titans of Turkish industry also nurtured ties with the U.S. president, whose Trump-branded towers in Istanbul are owned by Turkish media mogul Aydin Doğan. Ivanka Trump worked with Doğan’s son-in-law, Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, who was a featured speaker this year at the 37th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations held this past April inside Trump International Hotel.
Hosted by the non-profit American-Turkish Council — a business group described by Turkey’s state-aligned newspaper Daily Sabah as the “main Turkish lobby in the U.S.” — this year’s event took place for the second time at a Trump property and featured top United States and Turkish officials as “Distinguished Guests.” They included Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and U.S. deputy energy secretary Dan Brouillette. The council did not respond to an email requesting information about financial arrangements with the Trump hotel and asking whether speakers received compensation.
On April 16, the last day of the conference, Albayrak had a private White House meeting with Trump, Kushner and Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary. The meeting was remarkable considering that the Treasury Department had a longstanding investigation of Halkbank, whose indictment implicated Albayrak in the scheme.
Federal prosecutors alluded to Albayrak as a “relative of the then-Prime Minister who held multiple Turkish cabinet positions.” Erdoğan was prime minister during the Halkbank scheme, and Albayrak then had been the Turkish Minister of Energy.
Treasury Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As for the State Department, a spokesman noted that the agency "routinely interacts with a wide range of political figures, business representatives, and members of civil society."
"As a general practice, we do not read out regular internal or diplomatic discussions," he added.
Now the finance minister, Albayrak gave Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla a hero’s welcome in Istanbul upon his release from a U.S. prison and appointed the convicted sanctions-buster the general manager of Turkey’s main stock exchange on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman commented wryly on Turkey’s rehabilitation of the white-collar convict.
“I suppose that’s one way of integrating back into society someone who has been convicted of financial wrongdoing,” the judge quipped in court on Tuesday.
Another Ballard partner, Pam Bondi, was not involved with Turkish lobbying but was involved in a 2016 Trump-world scandal. Trump Foundation had donated $25,000 to Bondi's re-election as Florida attorney general at the same time other state prosecutors had scrutinized Trump University. Both denied wrongdoing.
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