Trump’s Turkey Spat Could Rouse Army of Well-Paid, Connected Lobbyists

Turkey has spent millions to promote its interests in Washington

Former Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., shown here in October 2005 with House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is one of numerous retired lawmakers who have signed lucrative agreements to lobby on behalf of Turkey. (Ian Hurley/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Whatever the result of President Donald Trump’s tariff fight with Turkey, it is almost certainly going to rouse a well-financed and deeply entrenched influence-peddling operation in Washington.

The Republic of Turkey spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on well-connected D.C. lobbyists to promote its interests in Washington. It makes major gifts to American think tanks that do not have to be reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

It is unclear what, specifically, the Turkish government has received in return for its lavish spending. Its relationship with the United States has been rocky for at least 15 years, starting when President George W. Bush’s invasion of neighboring Iraq sent reverberations through the country. Trump’s surprise announcement that he would impose new tariffs on Ankara, ostensibly to pressure the release of an imprisoned American pastor, have threatened to send the already weak Turkish economy into a tailspin.

But Turkey’s lobbying has periodically raised flags among American ethics watchdogs and entangled Turkish interests in a variety of American scandals.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn got in trouble last year for his failure to disclose more than $500,000 he received from the Turkish government while working for the Trump campaign. Almost a decade before that, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert was dinged for signing up for a $35,000 monthly post-Congress lobbying gig for the Republic of Turkey, thus cashing in on what was already a lucrative post-office gig for many of his onetime colleagues.

That was shortly after Hastert, as speaker, killed a resolution that condemned the 1915 Armenian genocide, a measure the Turkish government vehemently opposed, and before he was convicted for paying $1.7 million to a man who had accused him of sexual abuse — money he is believed to have raised in part through lobbying work. The Armenian genocide, meanwhile, continues to be a hot-button issue in Congress.

More recently, the Turkish government has retained influential American law firms to lobby state and federal lawmakers in opposition to charter schools run by a Turkish opposition leader.

Turkey’s current roster of at least a dozen lobbyists include former lawmakers and powerful consulting firms.

Retired Louisiana Republican Rep. Jim McCrery’s firm, Capitol Counsel, for example, has a $432,000 annual contract to “educate and reeducate elected and appointed policymakers and opinion leaders about the Republic of Turkey, its strong friendship and continued support of United States diplomatic, foreign policy and military efforts, and the important strategic bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

And the Washington lobbying firm of Brian Ballard — which is considered among the most powerful in Trump’s Washington — gets paid $62,500 per month for “strategic consulting and advocacy services,” on Turkey’s behalf.

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Correction Wednesday, 7:18 p.m. | An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Republic of Turkey donates money to political candidates through PACs such as Turkish Coalition USA. The Turkish Coalition USA’s website states that it raises money from “US citizens of Turkish descent and American friends of Turkey” and that “contributions from corporations, foreign nationals and minors are prohibited.”

Correction 3:32 p.m. | A caption in an earlier version of this story misstated Roy Blunt’s leadership title at the time of the photo.

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