Giuliani pushed Trump to deport cleric sought by Turkey: Ex-officials

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was at times so insistent that a number of White House officials came to believe he was secretly lobbying for Turkey.
President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was at times so insistent that a number of White House officials came to believe he was secretly lobbying for Turkey.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, had repeatedly urged President Donald Trump to arrange for the deportation of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, calling him a violent extremist who needed to face justice in Turkey, former White House officials said on Tuesday (Oct 15).

Turkey has requested that the United States hand over Gulen, a permanent US resident living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, to be tried on charges that he instigated a failed coup in Turkey two years ago.

The disclosure came as Mr Giuliani escalated his battle with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday by defying a congressional subpoena for documents about a rogue campaign that pressured Ukraine's president to dig up dirt on Mr Trump's political rivals.

The characterisation of Gulen as a dangerous extremist echoed language that Mr Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, used to describe the cleric when he was serving as a secret lobbyist for the Turkish government while also advising Mr Trump's campaign in 2016.

Mr Giuliani was at times so insistent that a number of White House officials came to believe he was secretly lobbying for Turkey, one of the former officials said. Officials said they even checked lobbying records to see if he was registered on behalf of Turkey. He was not.

Mr Giuliani's push to have Gulen deported was first reported by The Washington Post.

In a phone interview on Tuesday night, Mr Giuliani denied ever trying to intervene in the Gulen case and accused people of intentionally making things up to damage his credibility.

 
 
 
 

"That would be totally crazy. I couldn't have gotten Gulen extradited. Why would I have gotten involved?" he said. "It's definitely untrue. I had nothing to do with Gulen."

He said his only interest in sending someone to Turkey was a prisoner exchange involving his client at the time, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who was accused in a more than US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) scheme to thwart sanctions on Iran.

Gulen has denied accusations that he plotted to overthrow Turkey's president, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in 2016.

The idea that Mr Trump should order Gulen deported was fiercely opposed inside the White House, where officials saw the issue as a matter to be handled by the Justice Department, not a political decision.

Ultimately, that was what happened. The Justice Department, which was led at the time by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, did not see merit in deporting Gulen, said one former official familiar with the matter.

Throughout 2017, before Mr Giuliani began representing Mr Trump as his personal lawyer, he appeared at the White House to discuss a number of issues related to Turkey, according to two former administration officials. At one point, officials tried to divert Mr Giuliani's access to the president so that he was raising his issues with the president's senior advisers instead of with Mr Trump directly.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Giuliani's lawyer, Mr Jon Sale, said in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee that he would not hand over documents to the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry because the information requested was "beyond the scope of legitimate inquiry" and a violation of attorney-client and executive privilege.

In a confrontational tweet that echoed the president's condemnation of the investigations, Mr Giuliani said that he would "not participate in an illegitimate, unconstitutional, and baseless 'impeachment inquiry'".

Mr Giuliani appeared to reject the idea that his decision to defy the subpoena will place him in any legal jeopardy. He said in his tweet that Mr Sale would no longer be representing him on impeachment matters.

"At this time, I do not need a lawyer," he wrote.

A spokesman for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr Giuliani's letter.

Mr Giuliani has emerged as the central character in the months-long effort by Mr Trump and officials in his government to get Ukraine's president to begin an investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for president, and his son Hunter Biden.

Mr Giuliani is said to be under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan who are trying to determine if he broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine. The investigators are examining his efforts to undermine the US ambassador to Ukraine, Ms Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in the spring as part of Mr Trump's broader campaign to pressure Ukraine.

Questions about Mr Giuliani's role in orchestrating the pressure campaign have increased after the arrests last week of two of his close associates who aided him in the effort to pressure Ukraine. The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are accused of a complex scheme to violate campaign finance laws.