WASHINGTON – Calling once again for Turkey to release Pastor Andrew Brunson Friday, President Donald Trump had harsh words for the NATO ally before leaving the White House Friday for Southhampton, New York.
“They can’t take our people,” the president said, calling Brunson a “wonderful Christian pastor.”
“He is not a spy,” Trump added. “They should have given him back a long time ago.”
His words came shortly after the high court in Turkey rejected the pastor's appeal for release.
"In diplomacy, you sometimes you hit a bump in the road. Clearly we have hit such a bump," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, told CBN News.
"While I remain hopeful for the expeditious release of Pastor Brunson, let me be clear that we fully support the president's action in refusing to pay a ransom to Turkey – a NATO ally – for the release of an innocent man," he said. "We support the president and his efforts to continue to place economic pressure on Turkey. As President Trump has stated, Pastor Brunson – who is being punished because of his Christian faith - is a 'great patriot.'"
Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, is being held on charges related to terrorism. Both Brunson and top US officials say the accusations are false.
"Turkey – they have not proven to be a good friend. They have a great Christian pastor there. He's a very innocent man," President Trump remarked at a Cabinet meeting Thursday.
Trump later tweeted that he had no intention of paying the Turkish government for Brunson's release.
Turkey has taken advantage of the United States for many years. They are now holding our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage. We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
With Turkey's economy already in a downward spiral, the president's treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, announced more financial pressure is on the way if Turkey doesn't release Pastor Brunson.
"As you know, we were very clear with our counterparts there, both Secretary (Mike) Pompeo and myself, on the release of the pastor. We've put sanctions on several of the cabinet members. Working with you, we have more that we're planning to do if they don't release him quickly," Mnuchin told the president.
Last month, at Brunson's third court hearing in nearly two years, US officials thought they had brokered a deal to free him by pressuring Israel to release a Turkish citizen imprisoned there.
Instead, Brunson was placed under house arrest where some fear his life is in danger.
Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, recently returned from Turkey.
"He's in a terribly dangerous situation because the Brunsons are portrayed in the Turkish press as people who are against the state of Turkey," she told CBN News. "And I have great fears there's going to be an increase of incitement of violence against them and no one will be able to stop a mob that tries to go and kill him."
Speaking to reporters in the White House press briefing room, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated that the Trump administration plans to keep applying pressure.
"Certainly the president has a great deal of frustration on the fact that Pastor Brunson has not been released as well as the fact that other US citizens and employees of diplomatic facilities have not been released, and we're going to continue to call on Turkey to do the right thing and release those individuals," she said.
In fact, Arriaga says all Americans can apply pressure by hitting Turkey where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook by avoiding buying Turkish goods.
"I have great faith in the American people and I'm hoping that at a minimum, anyone who has a Nutella sandwich, anyone who has towels that come from Turkey that unwillingly they're participating in lifting the economy of Turkey, which is something that we should not be doing when they're holding Americans like Pastor Brunson," Arriaga said.
If he's not released, Pastor Brunson's next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
The 50-year-old faces 35 years in prison, which would amount to a life sentence.