US President Donald Trump on Thursday addressed religious leaders at a national prayer breakfast where he took credit for the release last year of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was jailed in Turkey, The Washington Post reported.
Brunson was among those who attended the gathering.
“He was in there for a long time before I got there, and I said, ‘You got to let him out. You better let him out.’ And they let you out,” Trump said, gesturing toward Brunson.
“It was a miracle,” Trump said, with a theatrical gesture heavenward.
“This Saturday, Pastor Brunson will walk his daughter down the aisle,” Trump said. “Well, that’s great,” he added, apparently ad-libbing. “Was I invited?”
Brunson was detained by Turkey in October 2016, three months before Trump became president. Turkey accused Brunson of spying and links to terrorist groups, but US officials insisted he was seized because of his Christian faith outreach and as a potential bargaining chip.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly demanded the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen who he accused of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016, as a condition for Brunson’s release. Gülen denied having any role in the abortive putsch and called for an international investigation into it.
Amid increasing pressure by Trump as well as Vice President Mike Pence threatening Turkey with sanctions, Brunson was first moved from prison to house arrest in July 2018 and later released in October 2018.
President Trump said there was “no deal” behind Brunson’s release but repeatedly thanked Erdoğan.