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Bolton Book Says AG Barr Worried Trump Compromised DOJ Independence in Two Cases: NYT


One day after details of the draft version of John Bolton’s book started leaking out, the New York Times has reported on more of the contents supposedly contained therein. This time the story wasn’t about Bolton linking withheld Ukraine aid to investigations of the Bidens–it was about conversations with Attorney General William Barr.

The main headline here is that Bolton told Barr in 2019 that he was concerned Trump was, as the Times put it, “effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China.”

But Barr, and a DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on this, was described as “worried” about Trump creating the appearance of having inappropriate influence over active DOJ probes of Chinese and Turkish companies. What’s more, Barr reportedly then “mentioned conversations Mr. Trump had with the leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Xi Jinping of China”:

Mr. Bolton wrote in the manuscript that Mr. Barr singled out Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Xi about the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, which agreed in 2017 to plead guilty and pay heavy fines for violating American sanctions on doing business with North Korea, Iran and other countries. A year later, Mr. Trump lifted the sanctions over objections from his own advisers and Republican lawmakers.

Mr. Barr also cited remarks Mr. Trump made to Mr. Erdogan in 2018 about the investigation of Halkbank, Turkey’s second-largest state-owned bank. The Justice Department was scrutinizing Halkbank on fraud and money-laundering charges for helping Iran evade sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department.

Back in Oct. 2019, Law&Crime reported that Democrats launched an investigation seeking information about President Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s actions in the Halkbank case. The investigation followed a Bloomberg report that claimed Trump pressed former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help convince the DOJ to drop a criminal case against Reza Zarrab, 34 — an Iranian-Turkish gold trader and a client of Giuliani’s.

Giuliani reportedly sought Tillerson’s help in 2017 in orchestrating a potential prisoner swap with Turkey, even though federal prosecutors had accused Zarrab of “playing a central role in an effort by a state-owned Turkish bank to funnel more than $10 billion worth of gold and cash to Iran, in defiance of United States sanctions designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.” That Turkish bank is Halkbank. On October 15, 2019, the DOJ charged Halkbank for “its participation in a multibillion-dollar Iranian sanctions evasion scheme.”

“Halkbank, a Turkish state-owned bank, allegedly conspired to undermine the United States Iran sanctions regime by illegally giving Iran access to billions of dollars’ worth of funds, all while deceiving U.S. regulators about the scheme,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a DOJ press release announcing the charges. “This is one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations we have seen, and no business should profit from evading our laws or risking our national security.”

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Bermanwhose office has investigated Giuliani’s dealings in recent months, alleged that Halkbank management participated in a “brazen scheme to circumvent our nation’s Iran sanctions regime.”

“As alleged in today’s indictment, Halkbank’s systemic participation in the illicit movement of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue was designed and executed by senior bank officials,” Berman said. “The bank’s audacious conduct was supported and protected by high-ranking Turkish government officials, some of whom received millions of dollars in bribes to promote and protect the scheme.”

Democrats said at the time that they were also interested in learning about Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s “alleged involvement with the treatment of Halkbank”:

[Sen. Ron] Wyden referred to a Bloomberg News report published earlier this month that Trump assigned Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr to deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated pleas to avoid charges against Halkbank.

In an April phone call, Trump told Erdogan that Mnuchin and Barr would handle the issue, according to people familiar with the matter. In the months that followed, no action was taken against Halkbank for its alleged involvement in a plan to evade sanctions on Iran. That changed when an undated indictment was unveiled last week — a day after Trump imposed sanctions over Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

[Image via Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty/Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.