Trump Administration Pushes Back on Gulen Extradition Reports

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration says it isn’t reopening discussions about extraditing a prominent critic of Turkey’s president as part of an effort to lower tensions over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought to have Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who now lives in Pennsylvania, sent back to Turkey. That effort accelerated after a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan that he blames on Gulen’s followers. Gulen, who was an ally of Erdogan until the two men had a falling out, has rejected the accusations. So far, the U.S. hasn’t moved against him.

On Thursday, NBC News reported that the White House had asked law enforcement agencies to examine Gulen’s legal status and to look at ways of removing him from the U.S. The report, which fueled a strengthening of the Turkish lira, cited two U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests without identifying them.

“The Justice Department has not been involved in nor is it aware of any discussions relating the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to the death of Jamal Khashoggi,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said via email Friday. A spokeswoman for the National Security Council issued a similar statement.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that “the White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen.”

But the denials from administration officials, many of which were included in the NBC report, don’t clarify whether the administration is looking anew at extraditing Gulen -- only that they aren’t doing so in connection to Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Riyadh government who wrote for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2. A steady flow of Turkish intelligence leaks about his killing have fueled tensions with Saudi Arabia and put the U.S. in a difficult position between two allies.

When asked if there has been renewed discussion about extraditing Gulen separate from any consideration of the Khashoggi crisis, an administration official provided a standard response that the Justice Department will review any materials the Turkish government may provide on Gulen’s case and will make any decisions about extradition on the basis of the facts and relevant U.S. law.

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