Wbgld7z98iyqlejy9lce

Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

Articles by

The focus of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s tangle of business dealings with Turkey is one man: Fethullah Gulen, an ailing septuagenarian Muslim cleric who lives in a Pennsylvania compound.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Flynn received to produce negative PR materials about Gulen and about Flynn’s alleged discussions with Turkish officials about forcibly removing him from the U.S.

What’s received less attention is why Turkey would take such extraordinary steps to take down the aging cleric, and why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government thought Flynn would be able to facilitate them.

The former top U.S. intelligence official’s well-compensated work for Turkey is just one tentacle of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But it speaks directly to the central question of how foreign actors may have attempted to influence the actions of top Trump campaign figures.

TPM spoke to five Turkey experts to get a sense of Erdogan’s anti-Gulen crusade in the U.S., and how Flynn fit into those schemes.

Why is Turkey so desperate to discredit Gulen?

Flynn is hardly the first American that Turkey has used to lend credence to Erdogan’s campaign against the man he believes orchestrated a failed July 2016 coup against him. In the past few years, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has launched a lobbying blitz in the U.S. aimed at discrediting Gulen and his Hizmet, or “service,” movement.

Firms like Amsterdam & Partners and Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, receive lucrative contracts to paint the cleric—who promotes a moderate, pro-market version of Islam through a worldwide network of well-funded schools and charitable institutions—as a suspect actor bent on undermining Turkey’s democracy. This effort has been aided by anti-Islam groups like ACT! for America and outlets like Breitbart News, which routinely characterize Gulen as the head of a “shadowy and corrupt cult.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert at the non-partisan Atlantic Council, told TPM that Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s energy minister, is “behind” these lobbying efforts. Albayrak attended a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting with Flynn Intel Group, where discussions of removing Gulen from the U.S. were reportedly first raised.

“There is documented evidence that he oversees efforts within the United States through cut-out organizations to funnel money to lobbyists and PR firms who try to change the narrative on Gulen,” Stein said of Albayrak. “That definitely happens.”

Experts caution that there are legitimate concerns about financial misdeeds by some Gulen-linked institutions and about the secretive ways in which the cleric leverages political influence in Turkey through his network. But they say that Erdogan’s crusade against Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, is primarily about self-preservation.

The two men were political allies until about 2010, when Erdogan’s consolidation of power prompted what former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffries described to TPM as a “series of ever more dramatic confrontations.” By 2013, these involved politically-motivated prosecutions of Erdogan allies by Gulen-linked prosecutors and a subsequent purging of Gulenists from the judiciary.

Why hasn’t the U.S. extradited the cleric?

In an Election Day editorial in The Hill penned on behalf of his Turkish lobbying client, Flynn described Gulen as a “shady Islamic mullah” behind the coup attempt who should immediately be turned over to “our NATO ally.”

This closes mirrors Turkey’s stance on how “perplexing and deeply frustrating” it is that the U.S. has not yet turned over the man who “masterminded” the effort to overthrow Erdogan’s government.

The actual narrative is not so clear. Experts told TPM evidence that the U.S. Justice Department helped gather suggests that Gulenists played a significant role in the coup, but that Turkey has failed to prove that he was personally behind it. The attempted putsch was most likely the work of a coalition of groups, they said.

David Tittensor, an Australian religion professor who authored a book on the Gulen movement, said the evidence “didn’t meet the standard to initiate an extradition and warrant process” through the U.S. State Department and judicial system. Some of the alleged Gulen-linked coup plotters say they were tortured or that their confessions were forced, Tittensor noted.

He said the impasse with the DOJ could have prompted officials to hold secret talks with Flynn.

“Possibly the fact that these kind of talks were happening speaks to the lack of an evidence base that has been provided thus far and that they were looking for an alternative in order to get what they want, which is to get Gulen out of the U.S. and back to Turkey,” Tittensor said.

Flynn pushed Turkey’s line on Gulen in exchange for cash

Flynn was forced to belatedly register as a foreign agent earlier this year for accepting $530,000 from Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to produce negative PR materials about Gulen.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Flynn Intel Group’s work for Alptekin, who has close ties to Erdogan’s government. Mueller’s team is also reportedly probing two alleged meetings in New York between Turkish officials and Flynn about forcibly removing Gulen from the U.S.

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that he was startled by the plans to “whisk” Gulen away that he heard at the first meeting on Sept. 19, 2016, which was attended by Alptekin, Turkey’s energy and finance ministers, and members of Flynn Intel Group.

Discussions of a $15 million payout for Flynn and of possibly “transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali” did not unfold until the second discussion in December, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Both sides have stridently denied that any such discussions occurred.

What if Turkey gets its wish?

Gulen is currently the “pawn in the middle” of U.S.-Turkey relations, as George Washington University international affairs professor Scheherazade Rehman put it, and it’s not clear that Erdogan wants his return as much as he professes to.

For one, Gulen’s presence here provides negotiating leverage, as Jeffries, the former U.S. ambassador, pointed out.

“It gives them a good talking point to put the U.S. under pressure,” Jeffries said. “And the Turks like that, that’s how they do foreign policy.”

Though Jeffries said the Turkish people and government do want answers for the coup, which resulted in the deaths of some 300 people, other experts noted that Gulen’s return through traditional legal channels, which remains unlikely, could undermine the Erdogan administration’s account of how the coup unfolded.

“If he comes back then that will force an actual trial,” said Josh Hendrick, a Loyola professor on Islamic political identity who wrote a book on Gulen. “It will force a ‘prove it.’ All the inconsistencies in the narrative could come out.”

Erdogan has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

Did Flynn try to advance the extradition?

Not long after Trump and Flynn entered the White House, the FBI was reportedly asked to conduct a new review of Turkey’s extradition request. Though NBC reported that the FBI turned it down because there was no additional evidence to alter the Obama administration’s assessment of it, it remains unclear if Flynn or State Department officials made the request.

When questioned on the matter by House Judiciary Committee member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) at a hearing this week, Attorney Jeff Sessions said only that he knew the “Turkish government continued to press the federal government” on Gulen’s return and that though his department “had a role to play in that,” he was unable to discuss it.

The Atlantic Council’s Stein said it was not necessarily surprising that a new administration would want a review of such a sensitive situation.

“What is noteworthy is the reasons why they asked for it,” he said. “Was Mike Flynn on the take and was he fulfilling a contractual quid pro quo?”

Correction: This piece has been updated to correct an editing error. Erdogan, not Gulen, has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

Read More →

Some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists accused Twitter of censorship on Wednesday after the social media site retracted the verified status of their accounts.

Twitter’s changes to its verification process, including the move to take away the little blue check that provided white nationalists like Richard Spencer higher prominence in search results, come as the company faces pressure for failing to crack down on hate speech on its platform.

Under the new guidelines, Twitter can remove verification “at any time without notice” for users “promoting hate and or/violence” against others based on their identities. Behaviors “on and off Twitter,” including “inciting or engaging in harassment,” now warrant removal.

Unsurprisingly, the white nationalists targeted flipped out—on Twitter.

“Verified no more! Is it not okay to be proudly White?” Spencer asked, subsequently tweeting that anyone on the right who retained their verified status was “system approved” and “utterly irrelevant.”

Jason Kessler, organizer of this summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and whose verification last week prompted a mass backlash that ushered in these changes, posted the full letter he received from Twitter.

“Twitter has changed their verification policy just to be able to censor me,” Kessler lamented.

The company acknowledged in a series of tweets that verification, which was originally intended to authenticate the identities of prominent figures like celebrities and politicians, “has long been perceived as an endorsement.”

“This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse,” Twitter said.

A slew of social media companies and web hosting sites took similar action in the wake of the Charlottesville rally, deleting white nationalists’ accounts. As many on the far right have acknowledged, losing access to mainstream sites makes it much harder for them to spread their message.

Far-right activist Laura Loomer repeatedly compared the removal of her allies’ blue check marks to the Holocaust, likening it to the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to annihilate Europe’s Jewish population.

Tim Gionet, the far-right troll known as Baked Alaska, was similarly dramatic after he was permanently banned from the platform.

In a video live stream from a California In-N-Out Burger parking lot, Gionet ranted that Twitter shouldn’t be allowed to “get away with this.” He was chastised by an elderly man for talking too loudly and by a British man who informed him that a private company like Twitter is able to alter its policies as it sees fit.

Read More →

Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied knowing that former national security adviser Michael Flynn lobbied on behalf of Turkey and allegedly discussed with Turkish officials the possibility of kidnapping of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric while serving on the Trump campaign.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) grilled Sessions on his awareness of Flynn’s Turkey dealings in a taut exchange during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Tuesday.

The California representative first asked Sessions, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team, if he knew either before or after the 2016 election about Flynn’s lobbying work to discredit Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The attorney general said he didn’t “believe” he ever obtained such information.

Lofgren then moved on to two 2016 meetings Flynn reportedly had with Turkish government ministers to discuss the forcible removal of Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes orchestrated a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him.

“I’ve read that in the paper recently, but I don’t recall ever being made aware of that before this recent release in the paper,” Sessions said of Flynn’s conversations.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on an alleged December 2016 meeting in which Flynn was offered $15 million to successfully evacuate Gulen. Flynn’s lawyer strenuously denied the Journal’s report. The newspaper first broke the news of these discussions back in March with a report on a separate September 2016 meeting Flynn held with Turkish representatives on the same topic.

Flynn’s work on behalf of foreign governments is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to the Journal and NBC News.

Sessions did acknowledge to Lofgren that extraditing Gulen remained one of Turkey’s highest priorities.

“I’m aware that the Turkish government continued to press the federal government with regard to seeking the return of Mr. Gulen to Turkey,” Sessions said. “And our department had a role to play in that though I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of that.”

NBC has reported that Trump administration officials asked the FBI to conduct a new review of the Gulen situation after inauguration, but that the FBI denied it because Turkey provided no new evidence to bolster its case.

Read More →

After President Donald Trump again cast doubt on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on Saturday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo issued a statement contradicting the commander-in-chief’s remarks.

“The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” a CIA spokesperson told CNN. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.”

Trump suggested that the assessment was not so definitive, telling reporters accompanying him to an economic summit in Vietnam that Russian President Vladimir Putin said “he absolutely did not meddle in our election.”

“Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said after holding brief meetings with Putin on the sidelines of the summit.

The President also lashed at the leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies, as he has in the past. Trump dismissed the former heads of those agencies, which concluded that Russia intervened in the presidential race to swing it in his favor, as “political hacks.”

Read More →

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge on Thursday dismissed two of the three felony counts levied against a prominent white nationalist charged after a torch-lit rally at the University of Virginia.

Christopher Cantwell of Keene, New Hampshire, is accused of pepper-spraying counterprotesters during an Aug. 11 Charlottesville protest, a day before the much larger white nationalist rally in the city. Cantwell, wearing a faded jail jumpsuit, testified that he acted in self-defense.

An Albemarle County judge dismissed one count of malicious bodily injury with a “caustic substance,” explosive or fire, concluding there was a lack of evidence that counterprotester Emily Gorcenski had been injured by the spray, local media outlets said.

But the judge declined to dismiss one of the two counts of the illegal use of tear gas or other gases. A prosecutor said Cantwell, 36, had no reasonable claim for self-defense and clearly hated the counterprotesters, The Daily Progress reported . The judge said Cantwell admits to deploying the pepper spray, but there is enough of a question as to whether it was self-defense. The judge then certified the charge to circuit court.

The other tear-gas charge was dismissed after the judge agreed with Cantwell’s attorney that counterprotester Kristopher Goad is no longer certain Cantwell is the person who sprayed him.

Rally organizer Jason Kessler was present during the preliminary hearing, along with a group of white nationalists dressed in black, as well as people who oppose them, WVIR-TV reported .

Read More →

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that he “misspoke” when he previously claimed that “no one in the middle class is going to get a tax increase” under the Senate’s plan.

In a Friday interview with the New York Times, McConnell acknowledged that some working families would end up paying higher taxes if their bill passed, contradicting his comments from earlier this week.

“I misspoke on that,” McConnell told the newspaper. “You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments.”

A Times analysis found that millions of middle-class families will see higher taxes under the bill, which disproportionately benefits corporations and the country’s wealthiest households.

Congressional Republicans are under pressure to quickly move forward with tax reform after failing to pass any major legislation this year. Several acknowledged to TPM last week that their voters would turn on them if they are unable to pass a bill.

But the House and Senate bills rolled out this week contain stark differences, and lawmakers have only a few weeks to reconcile them before the Christmas deadline that the White House has imposed for tax reform’s passage.

Read More →

George Papadopoulos told his Trump campaign colleague Stephen Miller, now a top White House official, about his efforts to coordinate a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reported Friday.

According to the Times, Miller is the unnamed “senior policy adviser” described in emails that were included in the recently unsealed charges against Papadopoulos.

In one April email, Papadopoulos emailed that “senior policy adviser” to inform him that “the Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready.”

Two days later, after a London-based professor with ties to the Russian government told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he followed up with another message saying he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

The Times report marks the first time that Miller has been identified as one of the campaign staffers who was in regular contact with Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia-linked foreign nationals.

Miller also attended a March 2016 meeting of the campaign’s foreign policy team in which Papadopoulos told Trump directly that he could set up a meeting with him and Putin.

Neither Miller or his lawyer responded to the Times’ request for comment.

The senior White House adviser was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team late last week. CNN reported that the discussion focused in part on Miller’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

Miller helped Trump draft an initial memo he planned to send outlining the reasons Comey should be fired. Other White House officials stepped in to keep that memo from going out over concerns that some of its arguments were problematic.

The special counsel’s team reportedly has a copy of the initial draft letter.

Read More →

Two Republican senators rescinded their endorsements of Alabama Senate candidate (R) Roy Moore Friday night over reports that he’d pursued relationships with multiple teenage women.

“Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said on Twitter.

Lee, one of Moore’s most high-profile supporters, had already requested that the campaign stop using his image on fundraising materials.

A few minutes later, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) also announced he was pulling his “endorsement and support for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) piped up Saturday morning to say that the allegations weren’t necessary to know that Moore was unfit to be a senator. Moore was removed from the Alabama state supreme court for refusing to acknowledge the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, and has said Muslims should be forbidden from serving in Congress.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also pulled out of its fundraising agreement with the Alabama Republican.

The Washington Post on Thursday broke the news that Moore dated women as young as 17 or 18 when he was in his early 30s, and groped one woman when she was only 14 years old. Moore has mostly denied the accusations, but told conservative radio host Sean Hannity in a lengthy interview that he didn’t remember dating women that young and did “not generally” do so.

Other Republican senators have said that Moore must step aside if they receive additional proof that these stories are true.

Read More →

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) pushed back on reports that he pursued sexual relationships with teenagers in a Friday interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, telling the host that he did “not generally” date women in their teens.

Moore first addressed the most serious allegation surfaced in a bombshell Washington Post report: that he groped Leigh Corfman in his home when he was 32 years old and she was only 14.

“I don’t know Ms. Corfman from anybody,” Moore told Hannity. “I’ve never talked to her, never had any contact with her. “Allegations of sexual misconduct with her are completely false. I believe they’re politically motivated. I believe they’re brought only to stop a very successful campaign, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Moore has stuck to this defense since the Post report first dropped Thursday afternoon, but he offered more specific denials in his Hannity interview, insisting that he never pursued inappropriate relationships with the four women who spoke to the newspaper. He acknowledged knowing and being friendly with the parents of two of the other accusers, Debbie Wesson Gibson and Gloria Thacker Deason.

Moore used the phrase “good girl” to describe both women, who said that he kissed them and took them on dates when they were in their late teens and he was in his early 30s. Moore denied any sort of misconduct and said he didn’t “remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

Asked if he remembered dating girls that young in general, Moore said, “Not generally, no.”

The Alabama Republican said the reports were personally hurtful to him because he had a daughter and granddaughter and therefore had “special concern for the protection of young ladies.”

Congressional Republicans have responded fairly strongly to the Moore allegations, saying he must step aside if they are true—an argument Hannity himself made moments before Moore joined Friday’s show.

But it remains unclear what sort of additional information they are looking for to make that determination.

The four women in the Post story were independently sought out by the newspaper’s reporters, who had heard about Moore’s conduct with teenagers,. Friends and family members corroborated their stories.

Read More →

Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks in the hopes of obtaining Hillary Clinton-related emails around the time the data-analytics firm began working with the Trump campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Speaking at the Web Summit digital conference in Portugal this week, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix said that the outreach to WikiLeaks founder happened in “early June 2016.” Sources familiar with the matter told the Journal that the firm was in the advanced stages of contract negotiations with the Trump team at that time, and that some of its staffers were already working with the campaign’s digital arm.

“We received a message back from them that he didn’t want to and wasn’t able to, and that was the end of the story,” Nix said of Assange’s response to their request for “information” about Clinton-related emails, according to the Journal.

These new details flesh out previous reports in the newspaper and Daily Beast about Cambridge Analytica’s contact with WikiLeaks and Assange’s rejection of the firm’s pitch.

They also reveal that this outreach came at around the time of escalating overtures to Trump campaign staffers from Russian operatives promising dirt on Clinton or pressing for improved relations with the U.S. WikiLeaks has denied that the trove of emails from Clinton associates and top Democratic operatives that it published in batches last summer was obtained from Russian hackers.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have requested information from Cambridge Analytica as part of their investigations into whether anyone in the Trump campaign worked with Moscow to sway the election.

Read More →

LiveWire