Revealed: DOJ moved to quash probe into Turkish bank after lobbying from Erdogan
A major new investigation from the New York Times reveals that President Donald Trump's Department of Justice has moved to aggressively squash an investigation into a Turkish bank after the president was repeatedly lobbied on the issue by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the center of the investigation was Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank that investigators suspected was illegally funneling money to Iran.
The probe into Halkbank was being led by Geoffrey Berman, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York who stepped down over the summer after what he described as "unprecedented" pressure from Attorney General Bill Barr.
According to the Times' reporting, Berman in June of 2019 met with Barr to discuss the Halkbank case — and the attorney general pressed Berman to accept a settlement agreement in which the bank would avoid getting hit with a criminal indictment.
Berman, however, rejected Barr's efforts.
"This is completely wrong," Mr. Berman later told DOJ lawyers. "You don't grant immunity to individuals unless you are getting something from them — and we wouldn't be here."
As it turns out, Erdogan had been privately lobbying Trump to have the DOJ drop the case for months, and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in late 2018 similarly tried to put a stop to the probe.
This was particularly troubling, according to former Trump national security adviser John Bolton and other officials, because the president has business dealings in Turkey.
"He would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader," Bolton said. "In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road."