Senators to Trump: After U.S. Consulate Arrests, Lay Down the Law with Erdoğan

WASHINGTON --  A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Trump this week asking him to get tough on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the face of crumbling democracy in the republic and gross human-rights violations.

Erdoğan's post-coup purge of perceived enemies has extended to U.S. diplomatic staff, with Metin Topuz, a communications officer at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, arrested earlier this month and charged with espionage.

This week a warrant was issued for another U.S. Consulate employee, Mete Cantürk, on allegations of links to Pennsylvania-based scholar and Erdoğan foe Fethullah Gülen. When Turkish authorities didn't find Cantürk at his home, they arrested his wife and child.

"This now accounts for three separate incidents this year that the Turkish government has arrested a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission with little, if any, evidence of wrongdoing. It is completely unacceptable for the Turkish government to arbitrarily harass or arrest anyone, especially employees of our diplomatic missions and their families," wrote Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The letter was co-signed by Sens. Martin Heinrich (R-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

"We recognize Turkey’s strategic importance as a longtime NATO ally and a traditional source of stability and democratic values across the Middle East and wider region," the senators wrote, adding that Erdoğan and his allies "have corroded Turkey’s democracy by mounting an assault on the rule of law, using sweeping state of emergency authorities to stifle fundamental rights including free speech, undermining the independence of the judiciary, and quashing any expressions of opposition."

"In addition to the arrest of our consulate staff, Turkish authorities have arrested top officials of Amnesty International, and sentenced Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak to two years in prison in absentia."

Highlighting the May attack on peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in D.C., the lawmakers also noted that the regime is "exporting this brutality to our soil."

Erdoğan claimed Trump apologized to him, a charge the White House denied, for the beating up of protesters by his security detail. 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. A dozen men and one woman wanted by U.S. law enforcement on various assault charges were identified as Turkish security officials.

"Nine people were hospitalized, and as far as we know, there was no disciplinary action taken against the security personnel nor a public condemnation from your administration," the senators told the president.

"We support the State Department’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa services at our Embassy and Consulates in Turkey, but encourage you to take steps to mitigate potential impacts on those members of society who may rely on those services," they added. "We urge you to send a clear message to President Erdoğan that the United States will not tolerate this type of behavior and that any cooperation must be based on a shared commitment to human rights and rule of law."

Trump sat down with Erdoğan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, calling the meeting a "great honor" and touting his close friendship with the Turkish leader.

"It’s a great honor and privilege -- because he’s become a friend of mine -- to introduce President Erdoğan of Turkey. He’s running a very difficult part of the world. He’s involved very, very strongly and, frankly, he’s getting very high marks. And he’s also been working with the United States," Trump said before their bilateral sit-down.

"We have a great friendship as countries," he added. "I think we’re, right now, as close as we have ever been. And a lot of that has to do with the personal relationship."

Erdoğan thanked "my dear friend Donald" as they were poised to assess "the current relations between the United States and Turkey, as well as we will have the opportunity to discuss the recent regional developments as well."

Trump did not answer a question about violence committed by Erdoğan's security detail against peaceful American protesters.