President Donald Trump attempted to persuade former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to request the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against a client of Rudy Giuliani, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, in 2017, according to Bloomberg.
Reza Zarrab was being prosecuted in federal court in New York for allegedly evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program and had hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Giuliani.
Not only was Zarrab’s release a high priority for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it was an early indicator for Trump’s governing style, defined by his willingness to push aside formal procedures in lieu of pursuing matters outside normal channels.
Tillerson refused, and told the president that interference in an ongoing investigation would be illegal. He then repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly just outside the Oval Office. Both Kelly and Tillerson declined to comment.
“So often, the president would say ‘Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way,’” Tillerson told Bob Schieffer in an on-stage interview in Texas last year. “It violates the law, it violates treaty you know and he just, he got really frustrated when we’d have those conversations.”
Zarrab was accused of using his network to move money through the U.S. financial system to help Iran evade sanctions. He later pleaded guilty and testified, claiming that Erdogan knew of and supported the laundering effort on behalf of Iran, who rejected the accusations.