Turkish President Recep Erdogan has long pressured the United States to extradite one of his enemies back to Turkey, and though to date he has been unsuccessful, President Donald Trump reportedly is considering the option anew as tensions mount between the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
> Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
> The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey's case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said.
Specifically, the White House is after details on Gulen’s residency status, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Gulen has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s and is a Green Card holder.
> Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said.
> "At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious," said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.
Multiple agencies involved did not respond to a request for comment, and Gulen’s attorney declined to offer remarks.
But a Turkish official told NBC News the government does not draw a connection between the issue of Gulen and the ongoing situation with Khashoggi’s death.
> "We definitely see no connection between the two," the official said. "We want to see action on the end of the United States in terms of the extradition of Gulen. And we're going to continue our investigation on behalf of the Khashoggi case."
When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Turkey in mid-October, the return of Gulen “was their number one ask”, according to a source briefed on the meeting.
> Pompeo, who also met with Saudi leaders in Riyadh on that same trip, briefed Trump on his discussions after returning to Washington.
> The Trump administration later sent word to Erdogan that officials would re-examine the Gulen issue, the U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter said.
> Justice Department officials responded to the White House's request saying the review of Turkey's case against Gulen two years ago showed no basis for his extradition and that no new evidence to justify it has emerged, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said.
At that point, the White House turned to Gulen’s residency status as a potential option for removal, according to administration officials:
> They said the White House specifically wanted details about the terms under which Gulen resides in the U.S. Officials from the law enforcement agencies informed the White House there is no evidence that Gulen has broken any U.S. laws, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said.
> The requests on Gulen in mid-October mark at least the second time the Trump administration has re-examined Turkey's extradition request since taking office. In the weeks after Trump's inauguration, the White House asked the Justice Department to review Gulen's case, NBC has reported.