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Andrew Brunson (R) escorted by plainclothes police to his home, where he remains under house arrest. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The White House has rejected Turkey's attempt to link a U.S. investigation into Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank accused of helping Iran skirt sanctions, with the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender reports, citing a senior White House official.

Between the lines: President Trump thought he already had a deal last month to secure the release of Brunson, who faces dubious terrorism charges in Turkey, and was infuriated when the pastor was instead moved to house arrest. Trump is now demanding Brunson's immediate release from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refusing to tie his detention to any other issues.

  • Rather than release Brunson last month, Erdogan attempted to use him as leverage to reduce the punishment on Halkbank and discourage further investigation of the bank by the Treasury Department. His government seemed stunned by Trump's infuriated response.
  • "Political ties will remain tense until Erdogan finds a way to release Brunson and sell it in Turkey," says Soner Cagaptay of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Erdogan didn’t want this crisis with Trump, but now he’s looking at how he can intertwine it with the other crises he faces," Cagaptay added. Most notably, Erdogan is blaming Turkey's economic meltdown on U.S. sanctions, despite having largely caused it with his own economic policies.
  • The standoff has led to fears that relations between the U.S. and Turkey, a NATO ally, could break down entirely.

Go deeper: How U.S.-Turkey relations reached a breaking point.

Go deeper

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.