President Donald Trump on Monday congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the controversial referendum over the weekend that granted him sweeping new powers amid accusations of human rights violations.
Trump called Erdoğan on Monday to discuss the outcome of the vote, which gives the Turkish president the power to rule by decree and authorizes the abolition of the prime minister's office, and which opponents have slammed as a possible death knell for Turkey's democratic institutions.
That makes Trump the first, and thus far only, Western leader to congratulate Erdoğan on the power grab.
"If there's a compelling defense for this, it's hiding well," wrote Steve Benen at MSNBC.
The laudatory conversation seemed to reflect Trump's authoritarian similarities with the Turkish president. In addition to discussing Erdoğan's win, the two leaders spoke about the recent U.S. strike against a Syrian air base, which Trump thanked Erdoğan for supporting, and the continuing fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). A White House readout of the phone call did not mention whether Trump raised concerns over accusations of voter intimidation, unfair campaigning, and ballot irregularities.
Observers criticized the call. "Even after everything, this is astounding. Formally and publicly congratulating an act of authoritarianization. Astounding," tweeted New York Times reporter Max Fisher.
Even after everything, this is astounding. Formally and publicly congratulating an act of authoritarianization. Astounding. https://t.co/tPzLyH4Dqc— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) April 18, 2017
The call also contradicted statements by Trump's own press secretary and State Department.
At a briefing Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked what Trump would like to see the Turkish president do, to which he responded, "I think we'd rather not get ahead of that report and start to make decisions without knowing. There were observers there, as there routinely are, and I'd rather wait and see."
But with the phone call, it seems Trump didn't wait and see.
And the U.S. State Department released a statement Monday urging the Turkish government to "protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens—regardless of their vote on April 16—as guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution and in accordance with Turkey's international commitments, such as under the Helsinki Charter," which requires signatory countries to uphold human rights.
Meanwhile, international monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) raised concerns over a decision by the electoral board to accept ballots that did not have official stamps, as required by Turkish law, which critics said could amount to election fraud. Opposition parties in the country on Tuesday filed a request to annul the result, which they said came after intimidation, unfair campaigning, and voting irregularities.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner and human rights watchdogs echoed those concerns, prompting Erdoğan to warn the OSCE to "know your place."