During the first night of the Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump told a pastor held in Turkey for two years that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “was very good” to him despite the former hostage’s ordeal.
Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina, was arrested in Turkey in 2016 on espionage and terrorism charges. U.S. officials had long accused Turkey of using Brunson as a political pawn alongside nearly two dozen other Turkish Americans who were arrested following a coup attempt. The White House upped political pressure on the Erdogan government and the pastor was ultimately released in 2018 after the Trump administration personally raised the case with Erdogan.
Despite Brunson’s detention, however, Trump doubled down on his praise for the Turkish strongman, a regular theme of his administration.
“We had to get you back,” told Brunson during a roundtable with five other former hostages. “I have to say, to me, President Erdogan was very good,” Trump continued. “I know they had you scheduled for a long time and you were a very innocent person, and he ultimately after we had a few conversations, he agreed.”
It’s unusual for a sitting U.S. president to tout their efforts to secure the release of hostages for political purposes, and equally remarkable to do so during a party convention from the White House.
Brunson said he was grateful to the Trump administration for its efforts to bring him home, telling the president he thought “if you hadn’t done that, I think I would still be in Turkey.”
Trump has repeatedly called Erdogan a “great ally,” a “strong man” and said he’s a “big fan” of the man despite criticism over the Turkish leader’s harsh crackdown on critics.
"To me, President Erdogan was very good" — Trump to Pastor Brunson, who was imprisoned by Erdogan's regime pic.twitter.com/1NmyU1tGOo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 25, 2020