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Turkish Businessman With Ties To Michael Flynn Hosts Conference At Trump Hotel


The ornate ballrooms of Washington's Trump International Hotel are the venue for a conference this week aimed at improving relations between the U.S. and Turkey. The event offers a snapshot of the conflicting interests surrounding President Trump, his hotel and at least one participant in the conference. NPR's Jackie Northam has this report.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The 36th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations kicked off this morning with strong coffee, platters of rich buttery sweets and a whiff of the intrigue that's captivating Washington. One of the conference co-hosts is Ekim Alptakin, the head of the Turkey-U.S. Business Council.

EKIM ALPTAKIN: As many of you have read in the media, I hired the Flynn intel group in 2016 before the election with a mandate to help me understand where the Turkish-American relationship is and where it's going and what the obstacles are to the relationship.

NORTHAM: Alptakin is the man who gave Michael Flynn a $530,000 contract to promote Turkish interests in the U.S. just before President Trump picked Flynn to be national security adviser. Flynn is under investigation for not disclosing that contract. His lawyers say he's also invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a separate investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Flynn is a controversial figure, but Alptakin says he has nothing to hide.

ALPTAKIN: There's been a lot of media attention on it, so I just wanted to address the issue.

NORTHAM: Alptakin's frankness surprised many in the crowd, including General James Jones, a former national security adviser to President Obama.

JAMES JONES: I mean, I - there's no reason I would have known that. But, I mean, there are little surprises here and there (laughter).

NORTHAM: Jones is one of the co-hosts of the convention whose venue has also been controversial. Ethics experts say special interest groups and lobbyists could try to gain favor with the president by using a Trump hotel. Nonsense, says Alptakin.

ALPTAKIN: We selected this venue long before the election, even before President Trump was a candidate. So they're reporting on the issue has been flawed, to say the least.

NORTHAM: General Jones, now with the American-Turkish Council, says the Trump Hotel was the best deal in town.

JONES: No time - there was no other ulterior motive there.

NORTHAM: And Howard Beasey, the council president, says they've had to answer a lot of questions about the choice of hotel.

HOWARD BEASEY: Unfortunately, in our contract with the hotel, there is no I-became-president-so-you-get-to-break-your-contract-with-us clause.

NORTHAM: Beasey says the conference organizers just want a successful event at a quality hotel. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER SONG, "COMPROMISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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