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The Trump administration is seeking ways to extradite an enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, NBC News reported Thursday, citing two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests. The effort is intended to get the Turkish leader to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It is at least the second time the White House has sought to remove Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. In President Donald Trump's first days in office, his administration asked the Department of Justice to look into the matter, NBC News has reported.
Turkey has accused Gulen of participating in a failed 2016 coup plot. Gulen has denied involvement and to date the U.S. has not found Turkey's case compelling enough to warrant extradition.
The first request was made under the short-lived tenure of national security advisor Michael Flynn, who came under scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller for an alleged plot to kidnap Gulen and deliver him to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in a separate matter.
The renewed efforts, however, come as Trump administration officials are seeking to placate Erdogan over Khashoggi's murder. Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is close to White House advisor Jared Kushner, the president's son-in law.
It is widely believed that the murder could not have been orchestrated without the approval of the crown prince, and Erdogan has said he has evidence that it was ordered from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government. Erdogan has not accused anyone by name. He has repeatedly said he does not believe King Salman was involved.
Trump administration officials reportedly requested last month that the Justice Department and FBI reopen Turkey's extradition case for the cleric. The officials also asked the Department of Homeland Security for information about Gulen's legal status, including his green card, NBC News reported.
In a statement, Justice Department spokesperson Nicole Navas Oxman said the department "has not been involved in nor aware of any discussions relating the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to the death of Jamal Khashoggi."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Turkey and the United States also reportedly discussed sending Gulen to South Africa, though that plan was ultimately scrapped.
The requests were met with fierce pushback from career officials.
"At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious," a senior U.S. official involved in the process told the outlet.
Separately, the U.S. and Turkey also discussed a possible deal involving the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced in May to nearly three years in prison for conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. Erdogan has criticized Atilla's prosecution.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and U.S. resident, was allegedly killed last month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi prosecutors announced Thursday that they had charged 11 individuals in connection with the killing and were seeking the death penalty in five of those cases. Turkey has demanded that the individuals be charged under Turkish law.