Nice Justice Department You Got Here, Shame If Trump And Billy Barr Happened To It
Another day, another story about Donald Trump doing tin pot dictator shit to destroy our independent justice system. This time he throttled the prosecution of a Turkish bank connected to that country's president for an illegal scheme to buy Iranian oil — because why settle for burning down the DOJ when you can thwart America's longterm geostrategic aims at the same time? It's a two-fer!
The New York Times reports that this wasn't Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's first go at the US government. In August 2016 he asked then-Vice President Joe Biden to disappear a case against Halkbank, which touched on several members of the Turkish president's own family. To be specific, he asked Biden to fire Preet Bharara, then the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which was handling the investigation, and also the supervising judge.
The whole thing was a frame job by his arch nemesis Fethullah Gülen, a septuagenarian cleric living in the Poconos, Erdogan insisted. Why, yes, that is the same guy literal actual foreign agent and Trump National Security Adviser for five minutes Michael Flynn was negotiating with his Turkish pals to black helicopter out of America for the low-low price of $15 million! But Old Handsome Joe Biden wasn't having it.
"If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers," Biden chastised Erdogan. Because Joe Biden doesn't have a hotel with his name on it in Istanbul kicking up millions of dollars in "consulting fees" for his daughter.
Anyway! Undeterred by the brush off from Obama, Erdogan tried his hand with Trump, where he seems to have fared better. Particularly after the country started writing $125,000 monthly checks to Trump's favorite lobbyist and fundraising bundler Brian Ballard. Turkey also dispatched Trump's former partner in the Trump Towers Istanbul, Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, to pitch the Trump administration. Drain the swamp!
At the December 1, 2019, G20 in Buenos Aires, John Bolton describes Erdogan handing Trump a memo explaining that, if you squint hard, secretly trading gold bars and food for Iranian oil doesn't violate the embargo because no American dollars or US banks were involved. (Spoiler Alert: Haha, fuck off.)
"Well, it looks convincing to me," Trump said, after he pretended to skim it, telling the Turkish president that he was already planning to fire Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney in SDNY who took over after he fired Bharara. In a phone call two weeks later, he assured Erdogan that it was all taken care of, after which the Turkish president told reporters that Trump "would instruct the relevant ministers immediately" to resolve the matter. So much for impartial justice.
Trump instructed Bolton to tell (Acting) Attorney General Matthew "Meatball" Whitaker to take care of it — an instruction Bolton ignored. But Whitaker, having received the message through other channels, instructed SDNY to make it go away — an instruction they ignored, because they figured that dipshit would be back selling big dick toilets again soon and they'd get a real attorney general again.
Turns out, the New York lawyers were half right. They did get a new boss. But it was that jowly, low-rent, Roy Cohn knockoff Bill Barr.
In June 2019, Barr met with Berman and encouraged him to drop charges against all individual Halkbank defendants, many of whom were family members and associates of the Turkish president, and settle for a fine and a generalized admission of wrongdoing by Halkbank. But not too big a fine, cautioned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — wouldn't want to hurt the Turkish economy!
"That is the biggest prize that Erdogan could ever receive," former Turkish parliament member Aykan Erdemir told the Times. "Erdogan was not trying to save the bank. He was trying to save his ministers and save himself."
Berman refused, telling Barr, "This is not how we do things at the Southern District." Which put them at an impasse, since Berman couldn't move forward on the case without Barr's sign off, and Barr couldn't make it officially disappear without judicial approval.
And that's where the matter stood for another four months, until Arty McDeals shot his mouth off and decided the US was going to pull out of Syria, leaving our Kurdish allies to their fate. Their fate, as it happened, was to run directly into the arms of Bashar al-Assad in a desperate attempt to avoid being slaughtered by our buddies the Turks.
How dare Erdogan embarrass President Trump like that!
"You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will," Trump wrote to the Turkish president on October 9, 2019.
Days later, on October 15, the DOJ finally greenlighted SDNY to drop the hammer, and lawyers literally raced to the courthouse that day with a six-count indictment before Erdogan could change Trump's mind again with a well-timed Harry and David's fruit basket.
Unfortunately for Berman, the die was already cast. He was Friday Night Massacred in June for failing to "go easy on" Trump's pals. The Times reports, "Justice Department officials cited his handling of the Halkbank matter, including his blocking of the proposed global settlement, as a key reason for his removal."
Nice justice system ya got there, America. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.