WASHINGTON -- The case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been imprisoned in Turkey since October, was brought up not once, not twice, but three times during President Donald Trump's meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday.
An administration official told CBN News that President Trump was the first to bring it up, followed by Vice President Mike Pence.
The official says President Trump then brought up Brunson a third time.
"They went to bat for the pastor," the official told CBN News.
Brunson was swept up in a terrorism investigation last fall but was never formally charged.
"Unfortunately, Pastor Andrew Brunson is now a pawn, kind of a trump card in Erdogan's hand. There's absolutely no rule of law, no due process in that case, it's a completely bogus case. Anyone who has looked at the case knows that these are trumped up charges," said Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey's Parliament who has advocated for the release of Pastor Brunson for months.
The official couldn't comment on how President Erdogan responded to Trump and Pence's questions.
The White House issued this readout of the meeting:
President Donald J. Trump met today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to discuss how to further strengthen the deep and diverse relationship between our two countries. President Trump reiterated the commitment of the United States to the security of our NATO ally Turkey and the need to work together to confront terrorism in all its forms. President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish Government expeditiously return him to the United States. President Trump told President Erdogan that he looks forward to seeing him next week during his upcoming international travel.
Christian leaders are applauding Trump for defending the imprisoned pastor.
Dr. James Dobson issued a statement calling President Trump and Vice President Pence "defenders of the church."
"President Trump and Vice President Pence have yet again demonstrated that they are 'defenders of the church' focused intently upon religious liberty here but also on religious liberty abroad," he said. "Of the countless issues facing our world, it's clear that to this White House the well being of any individual American rests at the top of the list of priorities and especially when that American is a prisoner of conscience."
Dobson also called on the global church to continue praying for Brunson's release.
Dr. Ronnie Floyd, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, made similar remarks.
"I've spent my entire life as a pastor, and I've travelled throughout the world encouraging those whose faith leads them to service abroad. No American pastor should fear imprisonment at the hands of an American ally," Floyd said.
"I thank God we have an administration that cherishes the freedom of religion as our founders hoped we would," he continued. "I join with millions of others in prayer for the swift release of Pastor Brunson from his Turkish prison."