(WASHINGTON) — A year after Andrew Brunson was released from a two-year stint in a Turkish prison — he’d been accused of spying and aiding terrorists — the American pastor visited the Senate floor and shared his appreciation for being freed with some of those who helped him.
“I’m standing here today because so many of you fought for me and I’m deeply grateful. In a time of many divides, you were unified in fighting for my release,” Brunson said Tuesday — the first day the Senate is back in session after a two-week recess.
Brunson, who’s from North Carolina, was invited by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to give the opening prayer on Tuesday.
“Today,” Brunson said in his prayer, “I pray that you grant to the senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord and the courage to act with counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small.”
Brunson was a Christian evangelist in Turkey for more than 20 years before he was arrested in October 2016 and accused by the Turkish government of espionage and ties to terrorists. He, his lawyers and the U.S. denied those charges.
“He found himself in a Turkish prison … in what we would consider to be despicable circumstances in a prison cell,” Tillis said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Tillis noted that the 62-page indictment against Brunson read like a “horrible, fictional novel.”
Brunson’s two-year imprisonment triggered a diplomatic feud between U.S. and Turkey, with the Trump administration enacting economic sanctions and tariffs on Turkey to pressure the country into releasing him.
At the time, President Donald Trump proudly boasted in a tweet, “There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”
Before Trump’s remarks at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, Brunson was invited on stage to pray over the president, alongside the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins.
The timing of Brunson’s prayer on the Senate floor comes amid renewed tension between the U.S. and Turkey over its offensive against the Kurds in Syria, and amid growing ire among Republicans and Democrats in Congress on the Trump administration’s handling of the escalating conflict.
A spokesman for Tillis denied that Brunson’s invitation had anything to do with the ongoing crisis unfolding in northern Syria, and noted Brunson was invited to lead the Senate in prayer weeks ago.
But other Republicans, especially those close to Trump, have made their disapproval of the administration’s actions regarding Syria loud and clear.
“I am gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation’s apparent response thus far,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Monday.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham previously said Trump’s decision to pull troops was “impulsive.”
“I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view,” Graham said last week. “This to me is just unnerving to its core.”
Graham appeared to back off after he met with Trump on Monday.
“The president’s team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals,” Graham said in statement.
On Monday, the White House announced it would enforce new economic sanctions on Turkey for invading northern Syria after the administration announced last week it would be pulling U.S. troops from the area.
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