Attorney General William Barr and Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty)
Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr tried to help the state-owned Turkish Halkbank evade criminal charges over sanctions-busting.
The revelation is the latest of Barr’s political interventions on behalf of Trump.
Last week Barr ordered a new Justice Department filing to overrule four prosecutors who recommended a sentence of 7 to 9 years for Trump’s long-time friend, self-proclaimed “dirty tricks” specialist, and Trump-Russia operative Roger Stone. The Attorney General has appointed an outside team to review other cases such as the conviction and impending sentence of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Sources within the Justice Department said Barr intervened last year after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pressed Donald Trump to absolve Halkbank, accused of moving currency and gold to bypass US sanctions on Iran from 2012 to 2016. Prosecutors say the bank its executives used money services and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the UAE.
Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla was charged in March 2017 with helping to funnel billions of dollars to the Islamic Republic. He was sentenced in May 2018 to 32 months in prison, and released in July.
In April 2019, Trump told Erdoğan that Barr and Treasury Steven Mnuchin would handle the Halkbank issue.
But the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, stood firm. Halkbank was indicted in October 2019. A US appeals court is currently considered its request for the case to be dropped.
Berman’s resistance fulfilled a message to his staff after he took his oath of office in 2018: “I want to be clear: Politics is not going to have a role in what we do. We’re going to keep doing business as we always have.”
Ballard Partners, run by Trump’s top Florida fundraiser Brian Ballard, spent more than two years pursuing high-ranking contacts in the State Department, Treasury Department, and White House to clear Halkbank.
The firm, with a $125,000 monthly contract from May 2017, ended the relationship the day after Halkbank was indicted.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote on Twitter after the revelation about Barr’s intervention.
NEW: I've been investigating Trump's interference in the investigation into Turkish-owned Halkbank, and my suspicions were just confirmed. Attorney General Barr — at Trump’s request — was trying to orchestrate a sweetheart deal to please President Erdogan. https://t.co/g1DICgh2Fz
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 15, 2020