Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is playing both the Democratic and Republican parties in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in his efforts to guarantee political influence regardless of the nominee, said Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a U.S. think tank.
Actions by Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s campaign suggest “that it is not serious about Erdoğan’s attempts to infiltrate it or buy influence”, Rubin wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner on Wednesday.
The former Pentagon official cited Elvir Klempic, who, until recently, served as the executive director of the Turkish Heritage Organization, a Washington-based non-profit that fosters U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations, as an example of the Erdoğan administration’s influence over the Biden campaign.
Klempic is currently the director for the Biden campaign’s National Affinity and Ethic Engagement Committee, a “perch” from which he can expect entry into a Biden administration if the former vice president wins the November election, Rubin wrote.
Rubin had said in a previous op-ed that Klempic, during his time at the Turkish Heritage Organization, promoted the Erdoğan administration’s talking points uncritically.
“The Turkish Heritage Organization is among the Turkish government’s most important and undeclared proxies in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote on Wednesday.
“Its programming consistently mirrors Erdoğan’s agenda, and its programming hews far closer to his ruling party’s line than to the broader array of Turkish domestic debate, let alone issues of culture and heritage.”
Rubin also pointed to Democratic Party donors Murat Güzel, former headed the Democrats’ National Ethnic Coordinating Council, and his associate, Imaad Zuberi, both of whom the FBI questioned for their work on behalf of Ankara.
Güzel, who met Biden in recent months, told Turkish news website ABD Post that Biden would eventually apologise for and dismiss his remarks made during an interview in December.
In Dec. 16 footage from The Weekly, a documentary series covering the development of iconic headlines by the New York Times, Biden spoke of his vision for U.S. relations with Erdoğan, who he called an “autocrat”. The former vice president also said he would “embolden” Turkish opposition to defeat Turkey’s strongman in elections if he became president.
Zuberi meanwhile reportedly donated to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid as well as Republican U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural campaign, according to Rubin.
He said Zuberi “illustrates the cynicism of Erdoğan’s efforts to buy political influence in Washington”.
Erdoğan’s influence is also seen across the aisle in Washington.
Observers say Trump and Erdoğan have a warm relationship. Erdoğan had “unlimited” phone call access to Trump, who, according to Senator Ron Wyden, in turn tried to scuttle a sanctions-busting investigation into Turkish state lender Halkbank as a favour to the Turkey’s president in 2018.
“Just as Trump and his advisers should be held to account for their relationship with Erdoğan and his businessman-proxies, it is time Biden recognises his campaign is also very much under an assault by those seeking to promote Erdoğan at the expense of democracy and law,” Rubin said.