Rudy Giuliani probably doesn’t need to become entwined in a second international scandal, considering that he’s under criminal investigation for his role in Ukraine, and that he texted reporters on Tuesday stating that “no one” is representing him following his split with his lawyer and former Watergate prosecutor Jon Sale. But according to a report from the Washington Post, in 2017, he pushed the president to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen from his compound in Pennsylvania so often that White House aides, according to the paper, “worried that Giuliani was making the case on behalf of the Turkish government.”
With the Gülen push — and a previously reported effort to pressure former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to stop the prosecution of a Turkish-Iranian trader — the accusation that Giuliani has been running a shadow foreign-policy shop gains momentum, as he draws himself into the scrutiny surrounding the Trump administration’s convenient bending to Turkish interests.
The founder of the Hizmet movement, Gülen claims there are millions of followers of his brand of Sunni Islam known for prioritizing education: As of 2014, the group ran the largest charter-school organization in the United States, with around 120 affiliates. Gülen was an ally of President Erdogan’s until a falling out in 2013, when Ankara labeled the movement a terrorist group; in 2016, Erdogan blamed Gülen for a coup attempt that resulted in 265 deaths.
For Giuliani, “it was all Gülen,” one former official said; another added that it was his “hobby horse.” Apparently, he rode the issue hard enough to help convince the president: A senior administration official said that Trump repeatedly asked why the cleric couldn’t be extradited, referring to Erdogan as “my friend.” As usual, the bad idea was halted when staffers told the president it was a terrible idea, that it could be illegal, and would certainly be politically damaging.
Giuliani’s reported effort to influence the Trump administration to extradite Gülen came shortly after a similar attempt by former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who at least registered as a foreign agent for his promotion of Turkish interests in the United States. If administration officials’ fears that Giuliani was lobbying extradition on behalf of the Turkish government are validated, it could put him on the hook for more potential illegal activity. Failing to register as a foreign agent can (but rarely does) result in a prison sentence of up to five years. In his defense, Giuliani told the Post that he has “never lobbied for a foreign government,” and that the idea that he pushed for Gülen’s extradition “sounds wacky.”