The Trump administration is considering ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from the United States to appease Turkey over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a report by NBC News.
Two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests told NBC that administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies — including the Justice Department and FBI — to look at legal ways to remove exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The move would be an attempt to prompt Erdoğan to take pressure off the Saudi government.
The White House reportedly sent directives to the Justice Department and FBI to reopen Turkey's case for Gülen’s extradition. The administration officials have also requested the Homeland Security Department provide information about his legal status.
The four people said that the White House wanted details about Gülen's residency status in the country. Gülen has a green card and has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, NBC reported.
U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said career officials at the agencies pushed back at the White House requests.
“At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,” a senior U.S. official involved in the process told NBC.
A Turkish official told NBC that the Khashoggi murder and Gülen's extradition case are not linked in terms of Ankara’s concerns.
“We definitely see no connection between the two,” the official said. “We want to see action on the end of the United States in terms of the extradition of Gülen. And we're going to continue our investigation on behalf of the Khashoggi case.”
The Trump administration is looking to quell hostility between the two countries — both key allies to the U.S. — after Khashoggi was killed on Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Turkey has said the U.S.-based journalist was tortured, murdered and then dismembered by Saudi operatives on orders from "the highest levels of the Saudi government."
After initial denials, the kingdom admitted late last month that Khashoggi had been killed and that his murder was premeditated, but that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was not involved.
The murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and a Washington Post columnist critical of Saudi leadership, has caused diplomatic strife between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
The kingdom has been a longtime ally of the U.S., and the U.S. has provided military support for Saudi Arabia's operations in Yemen, where a civil war there is seen as a proxy conflict between Riyadh and Iran. President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE also looks to the Saudis to help reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
But Erdoğan has the means to attempt to derail the relationship, and has said earlier that Turkey gave recordings related to Khashoggi's murder to various governments, including the U.S.
Erdoğan has also repeatedly accused Crown Prince Mohammed of arranging Khashoggi’s murder.
But Trump has been reluctant to respond too strongly given Saudi Arabia's economic and strategic value to the U.S. Billions of dollars in weapons sales from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia are in the pipeline.
Trump said last week that he is working with the two allies and Congress to decide next steps and will have a "much stronger opinion" on Khashoggi's murder in the next week.
Erdoğan has demanded the U.S. send Gülen back to Turkey for years, accusing the cleric of being a terrorist who was behind a failed coup against Erdoğan's government in 2016.
Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for almost two decades and denies any involvement in the failed coup.
After Khashoggi's murder, Turkish officials told Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe The CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll MORE that they wanted the Trump administration to extradite Gülen. The ask happened during an Oct. 17 meeting between Pompeo and Erdoğan in Ankara.
Pompeo later acknowledged having discussed Gülen with Turkish officials.
“We did talk about Fethullah Gülen and we talked about the set of issues surrounding that organization as well,” Pompeo said. “It's something that the Turks remind us of often, and we're mindful of places that we can work with them to make sure that we all have a shared set of facts as well. But it's mostly not a State Department issue; it's mostly a Justice Department issue.”
U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter said the administration later told Erdoğan that officials would reexamine Gülen.
Officials at the Justice Department and FBI didn't find evidence that would allow Gülen to be extradited. Such a move requires U.S. prosecutors to find that someone committed crimes abroad that would also be illegal in the United States.