Yesterday morning, the Washington Post reported the following: “Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment Monday charging two business associates of Michael T. Flynn with acting as agents of the Turkish government, describing in remarkable detail how the three attempted to persuade the United States to expel a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Throughout the fall of 2016, while Flynn served publicly as a key surrogate and foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, prosecutors say he and business partner Bijan Kian took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Turkish government to push for the extradition from the United States of dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen. Their efforts, prosecutors said, were directed by Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman with close ties to the country’s leadership.”
“As the Mueller investigation has moved forward, the Justice Department has seemed to take a more aggressive posture in recent months toward prosecuting those who lobby for foreign interests without registering appropriately. Mueller charged former Trump campaign advisers Paul Manafort and Rick Gates with similar crimes for their work in Ukraine, and the Justice Department recently reached a plea agreement with a Russian woman whom it had accused of acting as a Kremlin agent in the United States.”
Concurrently with the period outlined above, a firm with deep ties to New Jersey Democrats – Mercury Public Affairs, LLC – was also working towards the same goal, on behalf of the Islamist government of Turkey. Mo Butler, United States Senator Cory Booker's campaign consultant, former chief of staff, and "longtime advisor" and Michael Soliman, United States Senator and former Chairman of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations Robert Menendez's political advisor and former State Director are top operatives at Mercury Public Affairs.
Began in 1999, Mercury handles national and international clients. Michael Soliman joined Mercury in 2013 and soon after became a partner. Mo Butler joined as a "managing director" in 2016 and became a partner this year. Mercury Public Affairs has 10 partners, 160 employees, at 18 offices worldwide. Omnicom, a Russian company, purchased Mercury in 2003.
Last year, Mercury Public Affairs was the subject of a subpoena in the on-going investigation into Russia's meddling in the United States presidential election in 2016. According to the Washington Post, former FBI Director and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller obtained the subpoena seeking information about work Mercury had done for a pro-Putin political party in the Ukraine:
"The investigators asked Mercury for information about their public relations work at Manafort’s behest for a Brussels-based organization called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which pushed for improved relations between Ukraine and European countries. The Brussels group primarily advanced the interests of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party that had been a client of Manafort’s before he joined the Trump campaign.”
Ross Perot predicted the rise of this type of international consultant-lobbyist in 1992:
"We've shipped millions of jobs overseas and we have a strange situation because we have a process in Washington where after you served for a while you cash in, become a foreign lobbyist, make thirty-thousand-dollars a month, then take a leave (to) work on Presidential campaigns, make sure you've got good contacts, and then go back out." (Ross Perot, 1992 Presidential Debate)
In January 2015, Michael Soliman registered with the United States Justice Department, pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as a person representing the Embassy of the State of Qatar. You must have read about Qatar in the news...Amnesty International has accused Qatar of being complicit in human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Yes, slavery. In fact, the United Nations gave Qatar one year "to end migrant worker slavery" or face an international investigation.
Qatar is just one of freedom's garden spots represented by Mercury. Remember the controversy in Uganda, when the President of that country decided that homosexuality was a crime that should be punishable by death? Well, the law he wanted passed was "moderated" in December 2013, substituting life imprisonment for the death penalty. In 2015, Mercury was brought on to provide public relations, lobbying, and media monitoring services with regards to the Office of the President and the Ugandan government in general on subjects beginning with "human rights" and ending with "good governance." For which the contract calls for Mercury to be compensated at the rate of $50,000 per month, with $150,000 up front.
Mercury also represents individuals. Folks like Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi, who in 2003 led an anti-American demonstration in which he personally burned an American flag. For its work, Mercury pocketed a $30,000 monthly retainer, plus expenses.
In January 2016, Mercury Public Affairs partner Morris Reid negotiated a contract with Amsterdam & Partners, an international law firm with offices in London and Washington, DC. The document is marked "confidential and privileged" but is public information under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In August of the previous year, Amsterdam & Partners signed a contract with the Turkish Ambassador to the United States to provide legal services related to a "matter of importance" to the embassy. The government of Turkey pays Amsterdam a retainer of $50,000 a month.
While the contract stipulates that the greatest security and confidentiality be observed, under the terms of the contract between Amsterdam and Turkey, third parties may be hired "as the Firm and the Client agree in writing are necessary to further the Engagement." And so, in March of 2016, Amsterdam hired Mercury to perform work on behalf of the Turkish government for $20,000 a month -- above and beyond what was being paid to Amsterdam by Turkey. It is in the contract between Amsterdam & Partners and Mercury Public Affairs that we learn what all this cloak and dagger is in aid of:
The Amsterdam-Mercury contract references an "investigation into Fethullah Gulen and his organization in the United States." So who is Fethullah Gulen?
Gulen has been in the news since the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016. Gulen is a religious leader from Turkey, and a one-time political ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan is the increasingly authoritarian and Islamist President of Turkey. He has been repeatedly in the news for purging the judiciary, jailing journalists who write unflattering reports, and successfully intimidating the opposition. Erdogan had a law passed to allow the government to ban websites and he has promised to "rip out the roots" of Twitter. He has even attempted to censor speech in other nations, demanding that Germany prosecute a poet who had written some verse critical of him.
Erdogan and Gulen had a falling out over allegations of political corruption by Erdogan in 2013. Gulen's books were banned. First, he was indicted on charges that a Turkish judge threw out, but then was indicted a few months later for treasonable offenses that carried the death penalty. Gulen fled Turkey, came to the United States, and was convicted in absentia. According to Wikipedia, Gulen was one of the first Muslim leaders to condemn the attacks on September 11, 2001, writing a "condemnation article" in the Washington Post, the next day. He wrote: "A Muslim cannot be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim."
The government of Turkish President Erdogan has attempted to extradite Gulen back to Turkey in order to execute him for his political and religious beliefs, but the government of the United States hasn't cooperated. In the hours after the coup attempt, Erdogan was quick to blame Gulen, while Gulen put forward the theory that Erdogan had staged the coup himself in order to consolidate power.
The Associated Press identified Amsterdam & Partners (the firm Mercury is working for) as "lawyer(s) for the Turkish government". So why are Americans involved in trying to extradite a moderate cleric to satisfy the rage of an Islamist dictator?
How is Cory Booker going to look when his top guy’s firm is pulled further into the Trump investigation mess? How is Booker going to explain that this helps the American people? And with all this money from foreign powers floating around, at what point does a political advisor to a United States Senator and a prospective candidate for President find himself in an existential conflict of interest?