Two weeks later, in mid-December 2018, Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan spoke by phone. The president began by assuring Erdogan that the government and Halkbank were close to a resolution, and Erdogan expressed his gratitude, Bolton said.
In Turkey around the same time, Mr. Erdogan told reporters that Mr. Trump, in a previous conversation on Halkbank, assured him that Mr. Trump would “give immediate instructions to the ministers concerned” to they take care of the matter.
Mr Bolton said in the interview that his concern, listening to those conversations, was that Turkey and Halkbank “now had a direct channel in the Oval Office – they weren’t going to negotiate in good faith” with prosecutors. “Why should they?”
Mr Trump asked Mr Bolton to speak to Mr Whitaker, the then acting attorney general, about the case – a decision Mr Bolton said he did not make, although he added that he didn’t know if anyone else in The White House did.
On December 14, the day of the telephone conversation between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump, the Justice Department informed the Southern District that Mr. Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Attorney General’s office would be more involved in the Halkbank case. , said an official from the Justice Ministry.
Manhattan prosecutors had just drafted a memo for Mr. Whitaker and Rod J. Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, explaining why the Department of Justice should give them the power to lay criminal charges against the bank, two lawyers said. .
Mr Rosenstein was convinced the evidence was compelling, perhaps even more so than in other sanctions circumvention cases in which the United States had accused banks, lawyers familiar with the investigation said. The prosecutors’ note also noted that the measures accused by Halkbank were helping to support the Iranian economy, which was contrary to Mr. Trump’s foreign policy goal of increasing economic pressure on the country.