Freed by Tur­key and back in U.S., pas­tor prays with Trump

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, freed Fri­day af­ter be­ing de­tained in a Turk­ish pri­son for nearly two years, flew home to the United States on Satur­day, hugged his chil­dren on the tar­mac and headed to the White House, where he kneeled in prayer as he held the hand of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The Oval Of­fice visit punc­tu­ated a tu­mul­tuous two days for Brun­son, 50, who on Fri­day didn’t know what his fate would be, fear­ing he’d be sen­tenced to as many as 35 years in pri­son.

“From a Turk­ish pri­son to the White House in 24 hours, that’s not bad,” Trump said.

The pas­tor, a long­time res­i­dent of Tur­key, had been ar­rested along with thou­sands of other peo­ple af­ter an un­suc­cess­ful 2016 coup at­tempt. He was ac­cused of aid­ing the move­ment led by the al­leged mas­ter­mind of the coup, Turk­ish cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, who lives in Penn­syl­va­nia and is a po­lit­i­cal foe of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Er­do­gan.

Brun­son was also in­dicted on charges of hav­ing con­tact with Kur­dish sep­a­ratists who have been des­ig­nated as ter­ror­ists by Tur­key and the United States. Brun­son and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion have said the charges were bo­gus.

“It was hard for him and re­ally the Lord pulled him through,” his wife, Norine, said near the close of the White House gath­er­ing.

Brun­son’s re­lease had been a top pri­or­ity for evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, and Trump is cel­e­brat­ing the pas­tor’s re­turn as a diplo­matic coup for his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Trump tweeted on Satur­day morn­ing, “It will be won­der­ful to see and meet him. He is a great Chris­tian who has been through such a tough ex­pe­ri­ence. I would like to thank Pres­i­dent @RT_Er­do­gan for his help!”

At the White House, Brun­son thanked the pres­i­dent for help­ing win his re­lease.

“You re­ally fought for us, un­usu­ally so,” Brun­son told Trump. “From the time you took of­fice, we know that you’ve been en­gaged.”

The United States and Tur­key have ex­ten­sive mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ties but have had a fraught re­la­tion­ship marked by dis­trust in re­cent years.

U.S. of­fi­cials and oth­ers close to the case had sig­naled that Brun­son might be re­leased im­mi­nently af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions that in­cluded the lift­ing of U.S. sanc­tions against Tur­key. The agree­ment grew out of talks at last month’s U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly meet­ing, at­tended by Trump and Er­do­gan.

Trump on Satur­day in­sisted that he made no con­ces­sions to Er­do­gan to se­cure the re­lease of Brun­son.

Trump claimed the dis­ap­pear­ance and sus­pected killing of Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi in Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul had noth­ing to do with the tim­ing of Brun­son’s re­lease from pri­son this week.

The White House event was at­tended by a throng of se­na­tors and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. Brun­son thanked many of them for their ef­forts to free him, and told the pres­i­dent that he and his fam­ily pray for him of­ten.

“I need it prob­a­bly more than any­body in this room,” the pres­i­dent quipped.

The pas­tor then went on one knee and prayed that the pres­i­dent be blessed with “su­per­nat­u­ral wis­dom.”

When the rev­er­en­tial mo­ment was over, Trump rather abruptly looked at Norine Brun­son and asked her who she had voted for — be­fore ad­mit­ting that he al­ready knew she’d voted for him.

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