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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Case of Turkish businessman turns political

During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to

During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Turkey last month, the Times reported that Turkey's foreign minister accused Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York whose office is prosecuting Zarrab, of being used by anti-Turkish forces. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Yuri Gripas

So is this how President Donald Trump is fulfilling his campaign promise to “drain the swamp”?

Take the case of Reza Zarrab, a 33-year-old businessman being held in a Manhattan jail after he allegedly conspired to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. He is reportedly close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently won a vote to increase his powers. Trump congratulated Erdogan on his win.

According to The New York Times, Erdogan has cited “malicious” intentions in Zarrab’s prosecution. During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey last month, the Times reported that Turkey’s foreign minister accused Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York whose office is prosecuting Zarrab, of being used by anti-Turkish forces. Citing Turkish state media, the Times also reported that Istanbul’s chief prosecutor is investigating Bharara in apparent retaliation for Zarrab’s case.

Zarrab is represented by Benjamin Brafman, a heavyweight criminal attorney. But key roles are being played by Rudy Giuliani, who is a pal and was an early supporter of Trump, and by Michael Mukasey, the attorney general under President George W. Bush.

Although plea bargains are usually struck in courthouse settings by prosecutors and defense attorneys, Giuliani and Mukasey traveled to Turkey in February to meet with Erdogan about Zarrab. In court papers made public last week, Mukasey said the meeting’s purpose was to seek “a state-to-state” resolution of the case. He added, “Senior officials in both the U.S. government and the Turkish government remain receptive to pursuing the possibility of an agreement . . .”

Bharara said on Twitter, “One just hopes that the rule of law, and its independent enforcement, still matters in the United States and at the Department of Justice.”

After his election, Trump told Bharara he would be retained as U.S. attorney, but fired him last month. Trump has not explained his change of heart, although it may have been payback to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was Bharara’s patron and has given Trump a hard time in Washington.

Trump has not named Bharara’s successor. One name in the mix is Marc Mukasey. He is Michael Mukasey’s son and works at the same firm as Giuliani.

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