34° Good Morning
34° Good Morning
Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Ukraine and Turkey become foreign locales for Trump White House scandals

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, with Defense

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in an operation room Wednesday at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey. Credit: AP

Just as "Watergate" didn't quite describe the breadth of the Nixon administration scandals, "Russiagate" no longer fits the bill for President Donald Trump's current mess.

Early on, the controversy was all about Trump's excessive praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, his campaign's multiple contacts with Russian operatives, his Moscow hotel project and efforts to squelch probes of the matter.

An impeachment process is still due to include possible obstruction in the "Russiagate" probe. But now, news stories break nearly every day about the president's actions in Ukraine and Turkey.

On Thursday, two Florida businessmen from the former Soviet Union, who worked with Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani on private matters, were charged in federal court with improperly funneling campaign money to a member of Congress.

They allegedly asked the GOP congressman, unidentified in an indictment, for "assistance" in pushing to remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. There are four defendants, including the two businessmen, Giuliani clients Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Ukrainian officials in touch with the pair wanted Yovanovitch ousted, U.S. prosecutors noted.

As earlier revealed, so did Giuliani and other Trump allies who saw Yovanovitch as an obstacle to getting prosecutors in the capital city of Kyiv to scrutinize former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who worked for a Ukraine gas company.

Yovanovitch ultimately was removed from her post, as hinted by Trump himself in his July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

All this raises the pretty reasonable suspicion that foreign-government contacts may have been colluding with Giuliani's clients to help rig a State Department dismissal that would help Trump achieve a political goal, while money discreetly changed hands.

Then there's Turkey. Bloomberg News reported this week that Trump two years ago pressed then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help convince the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader.

Tillerson reportedly refused to interfere in the ongoing prosecution. But two key facts have been widely known all along.

One is that Giuliani represented the defendant Reza Zarrab who was charged with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. 

Another is that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted Zarrab released and sent home.

Ultimately Zarrab cut a deal with prosecutors.

Soon after, in November 2017, Zarrab testified that Erdogan, then prime minister, ordered two Turkish banks be allowed to participate in an oil-for-gold scheme that violated U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Exactly why Trump would have wanted to torpedo a federal criminal case on Erdogan's behalf might be a question for Congress to answer.

The question aroused particular interest after Trump did Erdogan a favor and let Turkey's troops push into Kurdish territory. He did this by ordering U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

In 2015, Trump sat for a Breitbart News radio interview conducted by Steve Bannon, who was not yet with the Trump campaign. Bannon asked the candidate about Turkey.

“I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump said. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”

Is the project somehow an element of his Turkey policy? That's another lingering question.

Latest Long Island News