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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Manafort Off Base on Terrorist Claim

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, wrongly claimed that “the NATO base in Turkey” was attacked last week by “terrorists.” Middle East experts told us there wasn’t any such attack. One expert called Manafort’s remark a “total fabrication.”

Manafort, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” accused the media of ignoring major news stories last week and instead covering stories that were critical of Trump. He cited, for example, the extensive media coverage of Trump’s comment that perhaps “Second Amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton from making Supreme Court appointments.

Trump’s Second Amendment comment, which he made Aug. 9, was perceived by some as a threat against Clinton. Trump later said he only meant that gun-rights supporters could deny Clinton an election victory if they mobilize to elect him. Manafort told CNN’s Jake Tapper that “you covered this aside about the Second Amendment for three days.”

Manafort, Aug. 14: I mean, there’s plenty of news to cover this week that I haven’t seen covered. You had information coming out about pay-for-play out of emails of Hillary Clinton’s that weren’t turned over, by the way, to the Justice Department for her investigation. That’s a major news story.

You had — you had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists. You had a number of things that were appropriate to this campaign, were part of what Mr. Trump has been talking about.

Let’s first dispense of Manafort’s comment that Clinton’s emails weren’t covered. They were widely covered, as Tapper said.

Manafort is referring to emails and other State Department documents that were released on Aug. 9 by Judicial Watch. As part of its ongoing freedom of information lawsuit against the State Department, the conservative group disclosed that it had obtained “296 pages of State Department records, of which 44 email exchanges were not previously turned over to the State Department.” That email release was widely covered by the media, including CNN, which reported that the emails “raise questions about the Clinton Foundation’s influence on the State Department and its relations during her tenure” as secretary of state.

The coverage may not have been as extensive as Manafort would have liked, but he was wrong to say that it wasn’t covered.

What about the failure of the media to cover a “NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists”?

“There was no terrorist attack on a NATO base in Turkey that I am aware of,” Steven A. Cook, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told us in an email.

Other experts said the same thing. “There was no attack on the American base by anyone in Turkey,” Henri J. Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said in an email. “Total fabrication.”

What was Manafort talking about? We don’t know because the Trump campaign did not respond to our requests for information.

There was, of course, a failed military coup in Turkey on July 15. The Turkish government claims Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania, plotted the coup attempt. Turkey describes Gulen as the leader of the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization,” and it has asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen, as the New York Times has reported.

Kemal Kirisci, director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution, said Manafort may be referring to the coup attempt and the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, but he said the U.S. does not consider the group to be a terrorist organization.

“The term ‘terrorism’ is being used these days in a very loose fashion,” Kirisci told us. “The Turkish government defines this group as a terrorist organization. And in some ways it is a terrorist organization. The West does not define this group as a terrorist group.”

Also, the coup attempt happened a month ago (not a week ago) and it was widely reported (not ignored by the media).

The experts with whom we consulted also told us that there were anti-American demonstrations  in late July at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Turkey is a NATO member, and Incirlik is sometimes misidentified as a NATO base. But it is not, Cook told us. It is operated jointly by the U.S. and Turkey.

The anti-American demonstrations sprung from the belief widely held in Turkey that the U.S. was behind the coup attempt “either directly or simply because the man widely suspected to be the leader of the conspiracy, the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, lives in self-exile in the United States,” as the New York Times explains.

Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense authorized news outlet, reported that there were at least 1,000 demonstrators on July 28, but operations at the base were not disrupted. There were protests again on July 30, and this time Turkish police blocked access to the base amid inaccurate speculation of a second military coup, Stars and Stripes reported.

“Mr. Manafort may be referring to the fact that Turkish police surrounded Incirlik airbase, which is not a NATO facility,” Cook said. “That happened about 2.5 weeks ago.”

The anti-U.S. demonstrations at the base did not receive much U.S. attention that we could find. But Barkey told us they were “peaceful.”

There simply is no evidence that we could find of a “NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists,” as Manafort claimed.