Donald Trump Has a Conflict of Interest in Turkey. Just Ask Donald Trump.

Why the president’s congratulatory call to Recep Tayyip Erdogan raises serious questions.

AP

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Several media outlets have slammed President Donald Trump for congratulating Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on winning a referendum that will bolster his autocratic power and weaken that nation’s democracy. International observers say the referendum took place on an “unlevel playing field” and voting irregularities raise questions about the outcome. A brief White House summary of Trump’s call to Erdogan did not reference any such concerns. Ultimately, if the referendum stands, Turkey will shift from a parliamentary government to one largely controlled by the president—though many of the changes strengthening the president’s powers won’t take place until after the next election in 2019. (It’s worth noting that before Erdogan became president, the role of this office was primarily ceremonial.)

And there’s also another troubling layer to this story: Trump’s business ties to Turkey create a conflict of interest. That’s according to Trump himself. As Mother Jones reported in November, Trump mentioned his Turkey-related conflicts in 2015 during a conversation with Steve Bannon, who was then the executive chairman of Breitbart News. (Bannon would go on to become Trump’s chief strategist.)

On Bannon’s radio show, Breitbart News Daily, Trump said on December 1, 2015, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”

Trump was speaking truthfully. He had a vested interest in smooth relations with Ankara. And he owed Erdogan a solid. In 2012, Erdogan presided over the opening ceremony for the Trump Towers. (At the time, Erdogan was prime minister—a role the recently passed referendum would eliminate).

Trump has not publicly spoken in detail about his relationship with Erdogan. But in December, Newsweek contended that the Turkish president has leverage over Trump and noted that Erdogan wants the US government to extradite to Turkey the man he believes is responsible for an attempted military coup against him in July. “Erdogan of Turkey has told associates,” Newsweek reported, “he believes he must keep pressure on Trump’s business partner there to essentially blackmail the president into extraditing a political enemy.”

It appears that Turkey’s Trump Towers pose more than “a little conflict of interest.” 

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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