President Donald Trump in 2017 urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convince the Department of Justice to drop federal charges against a former client of Rudy Giuliani, it was reported this week.

According to Bloomberg News, Trump made the request of Tillerson during an Oval Office meeting, but the former ExxonMobil CEO refused to help Giuliani’s former client, Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab who was arrested in 2016 and was being prosecuted in New York on charges of evading U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran’s nuclear developments.


Other White House officials who attended the Oval Office meeting were reportedly taken aback by the demand Trump made of Tillerson. The then-Secretary of State told both the president and then-Chief of Staff John Kelly that assisting Zarrab would be illegal because it would be considered interference in the probe into the gold trader. Since leaving the White House in March 2018, Tillerson has repeatedly told the press that Trump pressured him to break the law on several occasions.


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Zarrab had reportedly brought on Giuliani and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to defend him. Giuliani denied Trump ever explicitly asked Tillerson to help his client, although the former New York City mayor told Bloomberg he possibly “dropped” Zarrab’s name “in a conversation” with the president. When asked if he ever urged Tillerson to assist the gold trader, Giuliani told the outlet, “You have no right to know that.”

Zarrab — whom prosecutors claimed had “close ties” with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan — ultimately pleaded guilty and never returned to Turkey, although his home and assets were seized by the country’s government. Zarrab also briefly spent time in a county jail in the U.S.

This bombshell story comes as tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to grow and after Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria’s northern border and abandon Kurdish fighters in support of a Turkish military operation. The move drew significant criticism from both liberals and conservatives for betraying the Kurds, a group that has long helped the U.S. fight the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region.

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