While serving as an advisor to the Trump presidential campaign, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, also the ousted National Security Advisor of the new administration, in a meeting with top Turkish government officials last September discussed the illegal removal from the United States of Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his extrajudicial return to Turkey, according to a Friday report in The Wall Street Journal.
Written by James V. Grimaldi, Dion Nissenbaum and Margaret Coker, the report indicates that details of the discussion in New York were learned from James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, who was in attendance, and from others who were briefed on the meeting.
Also in attendance at the meeting were Berat Albayrak, energy minister of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, according to foreign lobbying disclosure documents filed by Flynn with the Justice Department earlier this month.
According to Woolsey and those briefed, the discussion involved ideas about how to get Gülen, the inspiration of the faith-based Gülen movement who has been accused by President Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of masterminding a coup in Turkey last July, out of the United States and back to Turkey by circumventing the legal extradition process.
Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the government along with Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement without any credible evidence. Gülen and the movement strongly deny the accusations and have called for an international investigation into the incident.
The government, however, has unsuccessfully increased its efforts to secure the cleric’s extradition from the US due to both the coup and also an investigation into corruption in 2013 that implicated Erdogan, some of his ministers and his family members, which the movement is accused by the president of orchestrating.
Woolsey arrived at the meeting on Sept. 19 in the middle of discussions about the cleric and found the topic “startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal,” he told the WSJ, adding that the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” Woolsey said specific tactics for removing Gülen were not discussed, but if they had been, he “would have spoken up and questioned their legality.”
A spokesman for Flynn, Price Floyd, who was advising the Trump campaign on national security at the time of the meeting, disputed the account, saying “at no time did Gen. Flynn discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities” but added that “Gen. Flynn did discuss the Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo that included gathering information that could lead to a legal case against Mr. Gulen.”
Flynn Intel Group was retained by private firm Inovo BV for what it understood was to be work “focused on improving US business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, particularly with respect to the stability of Turkey and its suitability as a venue for investment and commercial activity.”
The FARA filing with the Justice Department was made retroactively when Flynn Intel Group realized that although it “was engaged by a private firm, Inovo BV, and not by a foreign government, because of the subject matter of the engagement, Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.”
Inovo BV, registered in the Netherlands, is owned by Turkish national Ekim Alptekin, an ally of Turkey’s President Erdoğan and also chairman of the Turkish American Business Council (DEIK/TAIK), a non-profit arm of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board. Alptekin helped coordinate a visit to the US by Erdoğan last year.