WASHINGTON • Freed American pastor Andrew Brunson fell to one knee in the Oval Office and placed his hand on President Donald Trump’s shoulder in prayer Saturday, asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”
Trump welcomed Brunson to the White House to celebrate his release from nearly two years of confinement in Turkey, which had sparked a diplomatic row with a key ally and outcry from U.S. evangelical groups.
Brunson returned to the U.S. aboard a military jet shortly before meeting the president. He was detained in October 2016, formally arrested that December and placed under house arrest July 25 for health reasons.
“From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours, that’s not bad,” Trump said.
Brunson’s homecoming amounts to a diplomatic — and possibly political — win for Trump and his evangelical base. Coming on the heels of the confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Brunson’s return is likely to leave evangelical Christians feeling good about the president and motivated get to the polls in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Brunson appeared to be in good health and good spirits. When he asked Trump if he could pray for him, the president replied, “Well, I need it probably more than anyone else in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you.”
Brunson had lived in Turkey for more than two decades and led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and aiding a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of engineering a failed coup. Brunson had faced 35 years in prison.
Trump maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom, but the president dangled the prospect of better relations between the U.S. and its NATO ally.