Swedish media is reporting that a former Trump senior campaign adviser will be helping a Turkish MP close to Turkish President Erdoğan to develop connections in Washington without charging for his services. According to the Nordic Monitor report:
October 11, 2020 Ali İhsan Arslan, a close confidant of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), hired a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, lobbyist Barry Bennett, US Department of Justice Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) records have revealed. According to documents filed with FARA on Wednesday, Bennett says he will assist Arslan in his role as a member of parliament “to develop better relations with key policy makers and thinkers in Washington.” Bennett also says he will work with Arslan free of charge because he is “Arslan’s friend.” Yet, despite the absence of a formal, paid contract between the two, Bennett seems to have disclosed his relationship with Arslan to meet the requirements of the US statute known as FARA. The Foreign Agent Registration Act requires certain individuals working as “agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.” According to Bennett’s FARA filing, his activities on behalf of Arslan “may include communications with Members of Congress and Congressional staff, Executive Branch officials, the media, and with other individuals and organizations that could reference relations with the Republic of Turkey.”
Read the rest here.
According to the article, Bennett is a partner at Avenue Strategies, a firm he founded with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandoski. In addition to being a Senior Advisor to the Trump campaign, he was the campaign manager for Ben Carson’s 2016 presidential run, as well as fundraised and set up super PACs for other Republican candidates and initiatives. Avenue Strategies’ clients have also included the Embassy of Qatar, a strategic ally of Turkey, and Avenue Strategies has stated that it represents Qatar in public affairs matters. Bennett’s actions on behalf of the state of Qatar have included:
- Gaining the written testimony of a retired Israeli military intelligence officer stating that Qatar had not provided weapons to Hamas, thus potentially preventing sanctions against Qatar.
- Contributing to forcing the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee to register as a foreign agent.
Avenue Strategies appears to be working on the Turkish-Qatari side in the Middle East, against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Arab states. The article continues to describe Turkish MP Arslan as follows:
Arslan, known as Mücahit (spelled Mujahid in English, meaning jihadist) in AKP circles, has been a close confident of Erdoğan since his time as the mayor of İstanbul. He is a businessman and one of the founding members of the AKP. Until his election to parliament in 2015, Arslan had no official titles but remained part of a core group that traveled almost everywhere with Erdoğan. In a 2004 cable on then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman mentioned Mücahit Arslan’s name under the subtitle of corruption and said, “Charges that Erdogan amassed his fortune through kickbacks as mayor of Istanbul have never been proven but we now hear more and more from insiders that close advisors such as private secretary Hikmet Bulduk, Mucahit Arslan, and Cuneyd Zapsu are engaging in wholesale influence peddling.”
(See NOTE 1 bottom for a GIOR comment on his name)
Arslan has also been described as “one of several people Erdogan used as a backchannel to try to smooth things over with Washington,” including meeting with White House and Pentagon officials in the face of potential sanctions due to Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S‑400 air defense system.
The Nordic Monitor suggests that having Arslan working with Avenue Partners may be a last-minute attempt to have the Trump administration address Turkish interests before a new administration potentially enters into power. Additionally, given Bennett’s long record in Republican politics, Turkey may just as well be securing effective lobbying for Turkey within the GOP even if they lose the presidency or Senate seats this election.
(NOTE 1: Nordic Monitor stated that, in AKP circles, Arslan is known as Mücahit, “meaning jihadist.” Presented without context, the GIOR views this as an inflammatory statement. Mücahit is a name given to children, and Arslan has said that although Mücahit is not his legal name, he has been called this throughout his entire life. The fact that others call him Mücahit does not make him a jihadist, nor does it mean that others believe that he deserves “jihadist” as a nickname. The article is otherwise well-sourced.)