Last month, Donald Trump’s top military adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, met with two Turkish community leaders in New York City, one of whom has close ties to Turkish government agents, The Daily Caller has found.
Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency between 2012 and 2014, met on Oct. 10 with Ibrahim Kurtulus and Hilal Mutlu.
Mutlu, who is a cousin of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is tied to groups that either receive funding from the Turkish government or have close connections to Erdogan and officials in his regime, a Daily Caller investigation reveals.
Kurtulus is a former official with the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, a U.S.-based non-profit. Active in New York’s Turkish community, Kurtulus tells The Daily Caller that he is not in any way affiliated with the Turkish government.
The revelation of the meeting comes on the heels of a report published by TheDC last week which found that a businessman who is the director of an economic board controlled by Turkey’s government recently used a Dutch shell company to hire Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, to lobby Congress. (RELATED: Trump’s Top Military Adviser Is Lobbying For Obscure Company With Ties To Turkish Government)
Last week, on Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed at the website The Hill praising Erdogan and calling on the U.S. government to extradite one of the Turkish president’s biggest enemies, Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.
The op-ed stoked suspicion from some foreign policy analysts since Flynn had never talked publicly about Gulen. The op-ed also marked a reversal of sorts for Flynn, who has criticized Turkey and Erdogan in the past for not doing enough to fight ISIS.
The lobbying contract and the meeting last month raise numerous questions for Flynn, who is reportedly being considered for Defense Secretary or National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that a source working on Trump’s transition team says Flynn’s vetting could prove difficult. The source also said that Flynn did not disclose his lobbying relationship with Inovo BV, the Dutch shell company which is controlled by Ekim Alptekin, the director of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board.
But Trump himself has not indicated that Flynn’s lobbying ties are concerning. The Republican invited Flynn to sit in on a Top Secret presidential daily briefinging at the White House on Tuesday.
In a Facebook post after the Oct. 10 meeting, Kurtulus bragged that he used the meeting as an opportunity to “educate” Flynn about Gulen, who Erdogan has accused of masterminding a July 15 coup against the Turkish government.
Erdogan has pressed the U.S. government to extradite Gulen back to Turkey to face charges of treason. The 76-year-old imam, who has lived in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania since 1999, has millions of followers worldwide — called Gulenists. He also controls his own vast network of U.S.-based non-profits. Top Gulen lieutenants donated heavily to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and to the Clinton Foundation. (RELATED: Followers Of Controversial Muslim Cleric Have Ties To Hillary Clinton)
Gulen’s opponents have dubbed him a terrorist, and they have moved to convince American policymakers and other leaders of the same.
“We had the opportunity to discuss important matters to NATO Ally of the Republic of Turkey. We discussed security, economic and other bilateral relations between US and the Republic of Turkey. I had the opportunity to educate more General Flynn about terrorist Fethullah Gulen,” Kurtulus wrote on Facebook after his Oct. 10 meeting with Flynn.
The meeting received almost no attention from the press. Alaturka, a U.S.-based Turkish news outlet, reported that Flynn discussed Gulen in the meeting with Kurtulus and other leaders in the U.S. Turkish community. Alaturka also published video of Kurtulus interviewing Flynn.
Kurtulus told TheDC that he told Flynn during their meeting about the Gulen network’s operation of a network of charter schools in the U.S. He also says he told Flynn that the Gulen movement is a “radical Islamist Trojan horse.” He also said that he is not a fan of Erdogan’s, though he has praised the Turkish leader’s response to the July 15 coup attempt.
Also at the meeting was Halil Mutlu, another prominent player in the deep network of pro-Erdogan U.S.-based activists. Mutlu, whose late father Kemal was Erdogan’s uncle, serves as president of a U.S.-based non-profit called the Turken Foundation.
The Turken Foundation, which hosted Erdogan during his visit to the U.S. in September, was formed in 2014 after the merger the TURGEV Foundation and Ensar Foundation. Both groups have ties to the Turkish government.
It is unclear who funds the Turken Foundation. But it received $24 million in donations — a massive amount — last year, according to documents it filed with the IRS. But Turkey’s financing of non-profit groups in the U.S. is another source of suspicion for many foreign policy analysts.
“Is money going to support organizations that are acting as un-registered foreign agents or channeling cashinto campaigns?” Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, asked in a blog post earlier this week in which he noted that large amounts of cash have recently flowed into the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C.
It is not clear who Flynn met with other than Kurtulus and Mutlu. The Flynn Intel Group did not respond to a request for comment. But if both men do not work directly for the Turkish government, they are closely connected to people who are. Mutlu’s organization also has direct ties to the Erdogan family.
The executive director of TURGEV Foundation is Erdogan’s son, Bilal.
The Harvard-educated Erdogan appears to be involved in an effort to have U.S.-based non-profits lobby lawmakers on the Gulen issue.
Hacked emails recently released by a Turkish communist hacker group called RedHack allegedly showed that Erdogan recently discussed ways to influence U.S. policy regarding Gulen with members of the Turkish Heritage Organization, another U.S.-based nonprofit.
In the Aug. 5 email, which was reviewed by TheDC, Erdogan suggested that operatives “send info” to the opponents of U.S. Congress members who had received donations from Gulenists.
“Did you know Congressman XYZ took an all-expenses paid trip to Turkey, sponsored by this man…,” Erdogan suggested in an email to Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and the Turkish president’s son-in-law.
“Proposed strategy: Call all opponents of congressmen running for office who have been paid by the gulenists/taken trips to Turkey,” he wrote, adding that anti-Gulen operatives should “make contributions” to congressional candidates “if they sign a letter denouncing Gulen and asking the state department for his extradition.”
Erdogan then suggested that the cost of such a scheme would be “20-30k thousand per race.”
“Very good idea. Let’s do it as soon as possible,” Berat Albayrak responded.
Erdogan offered his suggestions after he was emailed a document from Halil Danismaz, the then-president of the Turkish Heritage Organization.
Danismaz received the email from Ali Cinar, the current president of the group and an active member of New York’s Turkish community.
Lobbying disclosure reports show that the Turkish Heritage Organization paid Ogilvy Government Relations $70,000 last year to lobby Congress on its behalf.
Cinar appears to have close connections to Kurtulus. The pair have been photographed together at numerous Turkish cultural and economic events.
Other emails released by RedHack show that Cinar exchanged at least one email last year with Ibrahim Kalin, an assistant to Erdogan. And in another email sent to Berat Albayrak, the Turkish energy minister, Halil Danismaz, the former president of the Turkish Heritage Organization, wrote that Cinar had extensive ties to the Turkish government and lawmakers and businessmen close to Erdogan.
Cinar’s name appeared in another email hack.
In an Aug. 19, 2015 email released by WikiLeaks, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was told by Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, that members of “the Erdogan crew” were attempting to influence U.S. policy by contributing to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“Am told that the Erdogan crew also tries to make inroads via donations to Democratic candidates, including yours. Two names that you should be aware of are *Mehmet Celebi* and *Ali Cinar*,” Werz wrote.
As for Flynn, it is unclear if he was paid by Kurtulus or anyone else to attend the Oct. 10 event. The Defense Department’s former top spy has come under fire for accepting payment to attend a gala with Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted in Moscow last year.
Flynn’s apparent lobbying for Turkey undercuts Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. insiders, says one pro-transparency government watchdog.
“President-elect Trump has to avoid lobbyists and anyone with a financial conflict of interest who are considering entering the administration, especially those with foreign ties,” Scott Amey, the general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), told The Daily Caller.
“Trump’s five-point plan for ethics reform was a good start, but it missed out on restricting those coming in from the swamp. Even if Flynn’s ties aren’t disqualifying, Trump should recall that the people voted for change and an administration of retreads and swamp things isn’t what won him the election.”
This article has been updated with additional information, including comments from Ibrahim Kurtulus.