Columns

Dismissal of Charges for D.C. Attacks by Erdoğan's Security Guards 'Coincidental,' Claims State Dept.

Members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail are shown attacking peaceful protesters on May 16, 2017. (Voice of America via AP)

WASHINGTON — The State Department denied today that the dropping of charges against the security detail filmed beating up Kurdish protesters in D.C. had to do with a subsequent meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

When Erdoğan visited in May, a small group of Kurdish protesters held signs and chanted across the street from the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C. Video from the scene not only shows the attack on the protesters in detail, but additional footage shows Erdoğan viewing the protests from his armored Mercedes and something being communicated to his security staff before the attack began.

Nine protesters were injured. Two men were arrested that day: Jalal Kheirabaoi, of Virginia, was among the protesters and was charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer. Ayten Necmi, of New York, was among the Turks and was charged with felony aggravated assault. During the investigation into remaining assailants, Erdoğan and his security team left the country.

After a joint probe with the State Department and the Secret Service, the Metropolitan Police Department announced two arrests in June: Sinan Narin of Virginia was charged with felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner. Eyup Yildirim of New Jersey was charged with felony assault with significant bodily injury, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner.

A dozen of the remaining men and one woman wanted on various assault charges were identified as Turkish security officials. Two Canadians, Mahmut Sami Ellialti and Ahmet Cengizham Dereci, were also indicted on assault charges.

In September, Erdoğan claimed Trump “called me about a week ago about this issue — he said that he was sorry, and he told me that he was going to follow up on this issue when we come to the United States within the framework of an official visit.”

“The protesters were insulting us, and they were screaming and shouting. The police failed to intervene properly. And similar protests were seen around the White House as well when we were inside of the embassy residence. The protesters were very close to my car, to my vehicle,” he said. Video shows protesters were across the street.

Out of the 15 Turks wanted for assault, charges against seven of Erdoğan’s guards were dropped the day before Tillerson visited Ankara on Feb. 15. Four more guards had their charges dropped this past November. The remaining four still face charges.

State Department press secretary Heather Nauert told reporters today that the department “had no role in the decision to drop those charges — that was entirely coming out of the Department of Justice.”

“I am told that the secretary was aware of the decision before he met with President Erdoğan in Turkey. He noted that the timing was coincidental, but he also noted it was a good example of how we have an independent judiciary in our country, and that the Department of Justice made those decisions, and took it from there,” she said.

“I am told that the secretary did not discuss this issue with President Erdoğan in any type of a quid pro quo; that the secretary was certainly aware of it, and believed it was a — noted that it was just an example of how our judicial system works here, and that it was a coincidence in timing,” Nauert added. “He went on to talk about, apparently, I’m told, that courts operate free of political influence.”

The White House said today that Trump spoke with Erdoğan “to reaffirm the importance of strong relations between the United States and Turkey, as NATO Allies and strategic partners, and to exchange views on regional developments.”

“The two leaders committed to continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges and to address the concerns of both countries that affect the bilateral relations,” the statement added.

Erdoğan’s spokesman simply said, “Our president has held a phone conversation with U.S. President Trump. Bilateral and regional topics were discussed in the conversation.”