A 2016 campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has signed on as a lobbyist for a Turkish lawmaker who has long served as one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s backchannels to Washington.
Barry Bennett registered his firm Avenue Strategies Global this week on behalf of Member of Parliament Ali Ihsan Arslan, better known as Mucahit Arslan. The firm is expected to provide assistance in introducing Arslan to “policy makers and thinkers” in Washington “for the purpose of developing better relations.”
In an email to Arslan filed with the Department of Justice, Bennett described himself as a “friend” of the lawmaker who would be working for free.
Arslan was one of the founders of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and has represented the capital, Ankara, in parliament since 2015. He is well known as a longtime confidant of the Turkish president.
“Mucahit Arslan has been one of Erdogan’s closest advisers,” said Gonul Tol, the director of Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute on Washington. “They met in the 1990s and he has been around him ever since. Mucahit is known to be Erdogan’s secret-keeper.”
As US-Turkish relations have deteriorated in recent years, Arslan has emerged as one of several people Erdogan used as a backchannel to try to smooth things over with Washington, according to reporting by Turkish media. With Turkey facing the threat of sanctions over the purchase of Russian air defense systems, he notably met with officials at the White House and the Pentagon in early 2019 to “test various options”, according to reporting by Ahval.
Neither Avenue Strategies nor Arslan’s office responded to requests for comment.
But the lobbying registration just weeks before the US election is fueling speculation among Turkey watchers about a last-minute push by Erdogan to see the Trump administration take action on some of his priorities. These include avoiding potential sanctions, improving cooperation in Syria and pushing for the US to extradite exiled cleric and accused coup plotter Fethullah Gulen.