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US drops charges against Turkish bodyguards over DC brawl

Posted at 5:37 PM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-22 17:37:54-04

The US has dropped charges against 11 of the 15 bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who were indicted after a brawl with protesters outside the country’s embassy in Washington last May, a spokesperson for the US Attorney in DC told CNN on Thursday.

Motions to dismiss the charges against seven of the security officers were filed on February 14 — just one day before President Donald Trump’s now former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Ankara to meet with Erdogan.

“The decisions were made after further review of evidence in the case that raised questions about the identification of individuals,” a source familiar told CNN.

The source said they are not aware of any political pressure having an impact on the decisions to dismiss charges as they were based on evidentiary review that continued during the case.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday that State had no role in the decision to drop the charges and that it was solely a Justice Department decision.

Tillerson was aware of the decision when he met with Erdogan, Nauert said, adding did not discuss this as part of a quid-pro-quo. She added that noted that this is what a free judiciary in the US looks like.

Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the US Attorney, declined to comment when asked specifically about the timing of the decision but noted that the US had also filed motions to dismiss all charges against four other members of the security detail last November.

The two US citizens who were charged in the indictment, Sinan Narin and Eyup Yildirim, plead guilty to felony assault charges in December and are awaiting sentencing in DC Superior Court on April 5.

Assault charges are still pending against four members of Erdogan’s security detail.

The bloody brawl outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence sent nine to the hospital and video footage emerged of Erdogan looking on as his security officials beat up protesters.

Erdogan had met with Trump at the White House just hours before the fighting broke out.

The Turkish embassy claimed that the protesters were “affiliated with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party)” — a banned separatist group in Turkey — and had assembled without permission.

The protesters “began aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the President,” the embassy said in a statement released at the time.

But the incident prompted the US State Department to summon Turkish Ambassador to the US Serdar Kılıç.

“The conduct of Turkish security personnel earlier this week is deeply disturbing,” the State Department official said following the brawl.

“The State Department has raised its concerns about these events at the highest levels and a thorough investigation that will allow us to hold the responsible individuals accountable is of the utmost importance to us.”

The US attorney filed motions to dismiss all charges against seven of the Turkish officers involved just one day before Tillerson met with Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in an attempt to ease increasing tensions with a key NATO ally.

That meeting was highly unusual because Tillerson reportedly wasn’t accompanied by an American translator, any aides or a note-taker.

Asked about the unusual nature of the meeting, a State Department official said Tillerson has “met before with President Erdogan, and he’s okay with the foreign minister doing the translation. They have a good, strong working relationship.”