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Officials Silent on Trump’s Turkey Sanctions Over Detained Pastor

President often announces policy moves before notifying aides and agencies

President Donald Trump welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to the West Wing of the White House on May 16, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to the West Wing of the White House on May 16, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House and Treasury Department officials are so far unable to provide details about which entities and individuals will be targeted by sanctions on Turkey that President Donald Trump announced Thursday, another sign how he often announces policies while his aides scramble to craft them. 

Trump tweeted Thursday morning that his administration will slap “large sanctions” on Turkey in retaliation to its imprisonment of U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, answering cries from lawmakers over charges they have called unfounded.

But the Treasury Department, which is the federal agency that oversees the crafting and implementation of sanctions, was unable to provide a description of them. So far, a National Security Council spokesman had yet to reply to an inquiry seeking information.

Trump often makes announcements before his staff and federal agencies have either had a chance to finish a policy — or even before he has altered them to start discussions about how a policy made by tailored.

“We spend most of our time responding to things from the White House,” a Transportation Department source recently told Roll Call. “It wasn’t like that with [Barack] Obama or [George W.] Bush. We actually, you know, did planning,” added the source, who worked in Commerce and other federal agencies under the 43rd and 44th presidents.

Brunson was among those imprisoned by Turkish President Recep Erdoğan after a failed coup attempt there in 2016. Military leaders, academics, Erdoğan critics, journalists and others were among the tens of thousands thrown in jail as the Turkish leader looked to consolidate power and sideline opponents.

Trump announced the new sanctions while on Air Force One en route to Iowa then Illinois for events on workforce development and the GOP tax law. He wrote that Brunson is “a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” adding the reverend has been “suffering greatly.”

Brunson was released from prison in Turkey on Wednesday, but remains under house arrest. 

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“This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!” the president added, echoing lawmakers.

Sens. Thom Tillis,R-N.C., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and James Lankford, R-Okla., issued a joint statement Wednesday applauding his release from prison while calling for more.

“The government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations,” the trio said.

Trump’s decision to impose the sanctions comes after former senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon last week said Trump is “attracted” to other world leaders who rule with a clenched fist.

“He likes President Xi, he likes Erdogan — who I think is the most dangerous guy in the world,” Bannon said to CNBC, referring to the Chinese and Turkish leaders. “And I think he’s attracted to Putin because he looks at those people as strong leaders of countries. They’re nationalists. They put their countries first and they get on with it. And they don’t care what other people think.”

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Brunson earlier in the day had been released, but remained under house arrest. Lawmakers from both parties had called for his release, and the new sanctions will only further sour U.S.-Turkish relations despite Trump’s seeming affinity for Erdogan.

Following a chit-chat with the Turkish leader earlier this month at a NATO summit, Trump mouthed this about him toward reporters: “I like him, I like him.”

But since Bannon’s comment — which came amid bipartisan backlash over his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — Trump has several times ticked off a list of moves he says shows he’s been harder on Russia than his predecessors, accused the Russian leader of preparing to meddle in the midterm elections on behalf of Democrats, pushed a second Putin summit into next year, struck a trade ceasefire with the European Union, and now sanctioned Turkey.

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.

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