In a victory for the Trump administration, on Friday, Pastor George Brunson, an American citizen who was a political prisoner for almost two years, was released from Turkey. In a meeting full of prayer, the pastor and his family came to the White House on Saturday, giving prayers of thanks and blessings for President Trump’s efforts in arranging his release.
The Turkish court had sentenced Pastor Brunson to three years in jail on Friday for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups.” The court freed him in light of the time he had already spent in detention, dropping the additional charges of espionage that could have added another 20 years onto his sentence.
“I just want to congratulate you because you have galvanized this country,” Trump said on Saturday. “There’s so much interest, and it’s your faith, it’s your strength, what you’ve done, gone through.”
President Trump also thanked the Turkish government.
“I do want to thank President Erdogan for making this possible,” Trump said. “It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy for him.”
Pastor Brunson expressed his gratitude to President Trump, getting down on his knees to bless him.
“We especially want to thank the administration, they really fought for us, unusually so,” Brunson said to the President. “From the time you took office, I know that you’ve been engaged.”
Brunson also thanked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and Senators Thom Thillis (Rep-North Carolina), Jeanne Shaheen (Dem-New Hampshire), Lindsey Graham (Rep-South Carolina) and James Lankford (Rep-Oklahoma).
“We’re so grateful to so many people in Congress who stood with us and who prayed for us and fought for us, so we want to thank you,” Brunson said.
Brunson then knelt down and prayed aloud for the President, asking that Trump be blessed with “supernatural wisdom” and “courage to stand for truth,” and that he be protected “from slander from enemies and those who would undermine him.”
“Make him a great blessing for this country,” Brunson said.
Brunson’s wife Norine then prayed aloud for the President, asking that he receive “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
In a tweet on Saturday, President Trump insisted that no deal with Turkey had been made in order to free Brunson.
There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2018
The Trump administration has negotiated the release of four other Americans held overseas. Aya Hijazi, and American citizen who was imprisoned in Egypt for three years, was released in April 2017. The president also negotiated the release of three men from North Korea in May.
Andrew Craig Brunson, 50, is an evangelical pastor originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, who lived in Turkey for 23 years where he served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant church with about 25 congregants. Brunson was arrested in October 2016 shortly after an unsuccessful coup d’etat against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, academics, dissidents and journalists were arrested but Christian clergy were targeted for the crime of “Christianization.” Brunson stood accused of being a member of the Gulen Movement, an Islamic movement whose leader, Fethullah Gulen, has lived in the U.S. since 1999. Turkey has long sought to have Gulen extradited and it is believed that Brunson’s incarceration was an attempt at pressuring the U.S. government into complying.
Brunson’s release comes after the U.S. placed heavy economic sanctions on Turkey. These came at a time when Turkey was facing spiralling inflation, a 40 percent drop in the value of the Lira and the beginnings of an economic crisis. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and,a s such, a military ally of the U.S. Disagreements between Turkey and the U.S. have come up recently concerning U.S. intervention in Syria in support of rebel groups Turkey considers to be terrorists.