Former U.S. security adviser concerned over Trump favours to autocrats

U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, was concerned that the president was doing favours for autocratic rulers including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the New York Times said, citing Bolton’s unpublished book.

Bolton recounts in his manuscript how he expressed his concerns to the U.S. attorney general, William Barr, who said he believed Trump had given the impression that he had undue influence over legal enquiries during conversations with Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Barr was referring to a conversation Trump and the Turkish president held about Halkbank, a Turkish state-owned bank that is facing charges for its part in a scheme to break U.S. sanctions on Iran, the New York Times said.

He also indicated a conversation held with Xi about ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications firm that pleaded guilty to breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea in 2017. Trump lifted sanctions on the company against the wishes of his advisers the following year.

A Justice Department spokeswoman posted a tweet on Tuesday denying that Barr had called Trump’s conversations improper or mentioned personal favours or undue influence in his discussion with Bolton.

But the former national security adviser’s concerns about Halkbank tie in with news reports last year that said Trump had personally intervened to ask Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to quash the case. The U.S. president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also actively lobbied in favour of Halkbank, according to news reports.

Trump has been accused of taking a soft line with the Turkish president since coming to office. The U.S. president has shielded Turkey from sanctions over its purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia and pulled troops back in Syria, allowing Erdoğan to launch a military operation. Bolton said in a private speech in November that he believed Trump was permissive in Turkey because he had property in the country.