Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was released by Turkey on Friday, is in “good shape” and will return to U.S. soil on Saturday, President Donald Trump said as he scored another victory.
Trump did not speak to reporters as he departed the White House for a campaign stop in Ohio, while Brunson’s plane was still inside Turkish airspace. But a spokesman told reporters as Air Force One landed in Cincinnati that Brunson had cleared Turkish territory.
“We’re very honored to have him back with us,” Trump said, according to a dispatch from pool reporters traveling with him. “He suffered greatly.”
Brunson will land at Joint Base Andrews around midday Saturday, the spokesman said. The president announced the pastor will visit the Oval Office to be officially welcomed home later in the day.
What’s more, Trump denied that the Turkish government received anything in return for Brunson’s release.
“There was no deal at all,” he said. “No deal.”
Brunson was among those imprisoned by Turkish President Recep Erdoğan after a failed coup attempt there in 2016. Military leaders, academics, Erdoğan critics, journalists and others were among the tens of thousands thrown in jail as the Turkish leader looked to consolidate power and sideline opponents.
In retaliation, Trump slapped sanctions on two high-ranking Turkish officials as relations with the Middle East country chilled.
Lawmakers from both parties had pressed the president and his team to urge Erdoğan to turn over the pastor to U.S. officials.
Brunson’s return after a stop in Germany will be another victory for Trump, who scored a major win by helping Senate Republicans put conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and giving it a 5-4 conservative tilt following a bitterly partisan fight.