Sen. Lankford: Turkey Holding NC Pastor on 'Trumped-Up' Charges as Leverage Against US
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called Thursday for the release of a North Carolina pastor jailed in Turkey on "trumped-up" espionage and terrorism charges.
The imprisonment of Andrew Brunson has gained national attention in recent days after a tweet by President Trump. Brunson is on trial this week and faces up to 35 years in prison, if convicted.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Speaking on "America's Newsroom," Lankford expressed skepticism about allegations that Brunson conspired with a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, was blamed by the Turkish government for an attempted coup in July 2016.
"I am a Christian pastor," Brunson said during a court hearing. "I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different."
Fox News' Hollie McKay reported Wednesday that Brunson "is not the only American citizen who has been arrested, jailed and harassed by an increasingly anti-U.S. Turkish government."
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis traveled to Turkey to observe the legal proceedings. Lankford explained that Brunson did humanitarian work in Turkey for 23 years and never had an issue renewing his visa.
He said the pastor was detained in an October 2016 sweep of teachers, professors and many others who were accused of being involved in the coup.
"They're literally holding an American, we think trying to use him as some sort of leverage against the United States because they have nothing to charge him with," Lankford said, adding Congress must impose sanctions on Turkey if Brunson remains in prison.
Watch the full interview above.