The Trump administration pressured federal prosecutors to settle an investigation into a state-owned Turkish bank suspected of violating U.S. sanctions law after President Trump received repeated pressure from Turkey’s president, The New York Times reported Thursday.
According to people briefed on the proposal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked Trump to bring an end to an investigation into Halkbank over accusations of giving billions of dollars in gold and cash to Iran.
The Times reported that in a June 2019 meeting with Geoffrey Berman, the then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Attorney General William Barr asked Berman to allow the bank to avoid the indictment by instead paying a fine.
Barr also reportedly asked Berman to end the investigation into the bank.
“This is completely wrong,” Berman later told lawyers in the Justice Department (DOJ), according to people familiar with the matter who spoke with the Times. “You don’t grant immunity to individuals unless you are getting something from them — and we wouldn’t be here.”
The Times added that six months before this meeting, Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general who ran the DOJ from November 2018 until Barr took over in February 2019, rejected Berman’s request to file criminal charges against the bank, according to two lawyers involved in the investigation.
The rejection came shortly after Erdoğan repeatedly asked Trump in talks from November to December 2018 to end the Halkbank investigation, the Times reported.
The Times said the reporting on the internal conversations came from interviews with more than two dozen current and former Turkish and U.S. government officials, lobbyists and lawyers with direct knowledge of the interactions.
While the DOJ initially declined to provide a comment to the Times, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec later gave a statement saying that Barr had supported indicting the bank last fall.
“The attorney general instructed S.D.N.Y. to move ahead with charges and approved the charges brought,” she said, referring to the federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department and the White House for comment.
In 2020, Trump fired Berman, who was also investigating members of the president’s family and inner circle. The firing prompted an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.
“He would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader,” Bolton said in a recent interview with the Times. “In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road.”