WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday welcomed home Pastor Andrew Brunson after two years of detention in Turkey, and the preacher thanked him by kneeling, laying his hand on the president’s shoulder and praying for him.
In an Oval Office ceremony for Brunson and his family a day after Turkey freed Brunson, Trump thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and spoke of “negotiating long and hard,” but also said the United States did not pay ransom or make any deals.
“You have just galvanized this country,” Trump told Brunson, as the 50-year-old Evangelical preacher sat next to him, with his wife Norine, their three children and her brother sitting nearby. Trump praised Brunson’s faith, strength and bravery.
“We would like to pray for you. We pray for you often,” Brunson said, and then got down on his knees, put his hand on Trump and prayed, asking God to protect Trump from his foes and to give him “supernatural wisdom” to “lead this country into righteousness.”
Brunson expressed his appreciation for the Trump administration’s efforts to free him.
“We especially want to thank the administration, you really fought for us, unusually so,” Brunson said. “So many people in Congress have stood with us and fought for us.”
Trump thanked the pastor, but he also asked, “Could I ask you one question? Who did you vote for?”
The pastor said, “I would like to say I sent an absentee ballot in from prison.”
Winning Brunson’s release, after an attempt two months ago fell apart at the last minute, represents a diplomatic success for Trump, giving him and Republicans a political boost in the crucial upcoming midterm elections.
The president acknowledged it was not an easy decision for Erdogan, but tweeted earlier Saturday that America’s “great appreciation” for Brunson’s freedom “will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey.”
Trump imposed financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey in August in his effort to win Brunson’s release after an arrangement to free Brunson fell through.
On Friday, a Turkish court convicted Brunson of links to terrorism, but dropped a charge of espionage, and sentenced him to about three years in prison but released him because he had already spent nearly two years in detention.
Brunson flew out of Turkey hours later, underwent a medical checkup at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and then flew to Washington.
Brunson, who had spent about two decades as a pastor in Turkey, said he could not say what he will do next until after he and his family pray about it. He is expected to join his family in North Carolina.