Did Turkey actually try to kidnap Fethullah Gulen in Pennsylvania?

Robert Mueller’s investigations have produced yet another story straight out of an international spy thriller novel. Ed Morrissey looked at this story when it first broke on Friday, but some new wrinkles have emerged. The short version is that Mueller is looking into claims that Michael Flynn and his son were working on brokering a deal to deliver exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in exchange for a handsome payday.

While the story seems rather dubious and founded on hearsay (as Ed noted), new details have made the tale even more strange. Rather than some sort of back room, diplomatic arrangement brokered with the cooperation of the President and the Justice Department, there was allegedly discussion of a plan to simply kidnap Gulen and spirit him out of the country. (CNN)

If proven, the alleged plan to kidnap the cleric with the aid of foreign money directly violates US criminal code and could result in up to a 20-year sentence for the Flynns, according to Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst.

“Under this statute, both domestic kidnapping in violation of US law, and if it was a crime in Turkish law, both would be specific unlawful activities, so anyone who engages in the effort to bring money into the US for the purpose of kidnapping another violates the statute. That’s a 20-year felony,” Zeldin said.

If the cleric were to die once in Turkish hands, that could mean a life sentence for the pair, Zeldin said.

Flynn is, of course, denying the charges entirely. For that matter, so is Erdogan’s government. (Associated Press)

Turkey has dismissed as “utterly false, ludicrous and groundless” a report that Turkish officials may have discussed paying millions of dollars to have a U.S.-based Muslim cleric kidnapped.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating an alleged plot involving former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his son to hand Fethullah Gulen over to Ankara for as much as $15 million.

How likely is it that there’s any truth to this story? Unless some substantial evidence is forthcoming we pretty much have to base that on the sourcing and answer a couple of questions about Flynn and Erdogan. As to the sourcing, the original Wall Street Journal article credited sources who didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge of the details. They also pointed out that they couldn’t lock down any indication that money changed hands or that an agreement was made.

Pardon me for finding the allegation a bit on the thin side based on the background information.

Also, you can say what you like about Michael Flynn, but do you honestly think he’s that stupid? Granted, $15M can drain quite a few IQ points from people, but when you start talking about a plan involving putting a bag over somebody’s head, dumping them in the trunk of a car and trying to get them out of the country without going through immigration protocols, surely Flynn would be aware that a serious crime was under discussion. And we’re not talking about a victim who would simply disappear without anyone noticing. Everyone has their eyes on Gulen for a variety of reasons. If he turned up missing there would be a lot of questions.

And what about Erdogan? In terms of motive, sure… he would dearly love to get his hands on Gulen and would no doubt expend significant effort and resources to make that happen. But even though the Turkish president has turned out to be something of a maniacal tyrant, he’s not an idiot. He obviously knows there are limits to his power once you step outside of Turkey and there are limits on how much the United States would be willing to put up with in the name of maintaining good relations.

Besides, Mueller has already set up the indictment process for Flynn. If he had anything substantial on a possible attempted kidnapping charge I’m guessing he would have mentioned it. We can’t rule out anything entirely in 2017 I suppose, but this is looking more and more like vaporware.