HARRISBURG, Pa. – (AP) – Mehmet Oz’s rivals in Pennsylvania’s embattled Republican US Senate primary are escalating their attacks on the famed heart surgeon’s ties to his parents’ home country of Turkey, citing it as a possible national security issue.
Oz, better known as Dr. TV’s Oz, has dismissed all suggestions that he poses a threat to national security and has accused an opponent, ex-hedge fund CEO David McCormick, of carrying out “bigoted attacks”. If elected, Oz would be the nation’s first Muslim Senator, although Oz did not campaign for that milestone.
Criticism of Oz and his ties to Turkey has mushroomed in the weeks after Oz garnered the backing of former President Donald Trump, who remains popular with conservative voters. Looking ahead to the May 17 state primary, Trump held a rally with Oz in western Pennsylvania on Friday night and scored a major win in the Ohio Republican Senate primary for Trump’s nominee JD Vance.
Oz, who was born in the United States, has Turkish citizenship, served in Turkey’s military and voted in the 2018 election, but says he would give up his dual citizenship in Turkey if elected.
Trump’s former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo, who backed McCormick in the race, told reporters Friday that Oz owed an explanation about the “scope and depth of his relationship with the Turkish government.”
Americans should know if Oz is “fit for service,” Pompeo said.
As CIA director, Pompeo served side-by-side in the Trump administration with Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who scrutinized the Justice Department for lucrative consulting work he and his firm did that benefited the Turkish government.
Oz also has financial ties to Turkey.
In his financial report to the Senate, Oz disclosed property he owns in Turkey, assets from his late father’s estate that are tied up in court cases there, and an endorsement agreement with Turkish Airlines that is partially owned by the Turkish government.
In recent debates, McCormick – a distinguished US Army combat veteran in the Gulf War – has accused Oz of needlessly holding dual citizenship in Turkey and has attempted to compare Oz’s service in the Turkish military to McCormick’s service in the US Army.
Another rival, Carla Sands, Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark, who inherited a commercial real estate fortune, has hinted that Oz has dual allegiance, calling him “Turkey First” in a nod to Trump’s “America First” philosophy of government.
In fending off McCormick’s attacks in March, Oz hinted that his religion was being targeted, and accused McCormick of committing “bigoted attacks” that are “reminiscent of insults made about Catholics and Jews in the past.”
Oz has claimed he served in the Turkish military as a young man in order to retain his dual citizenship. He still keeps it to this day, he said, so he has the legal authority in Turkey to make decisions about the health care of his mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
Oz voted in the 2018 Turkish election while he was in Turkey for meetings at the consulate in New York about his humanitarian work on behalf of Syrian refugees, his campaign said.
He voted against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his campaign said, noting that it’s not uncommon for dual-citizen Americans to vote in elections in other countries.
“Voting in an election is very different from taking an active part in the political work of the Turkish government, which Dr. Oz was never involved,” reads Oz’s campaign.
Senate historians have been unable to find any US Senator who retained dual citizenship.
Trump first attacked McCormick by name in an hour-long speech at Friday night’s rally, saying he was with a company that “handles money for communist China.”
McCormick is, Trump said, the “special-interest and globalist and Washington establishment candidate” who is spending millions of dollars to defeat Oz and “rip off the United States with bad trade deals and open borders.”
Trump didn’t specifically mention the attacks on Oz’s ties to Turkey, instead introducing Oz to the crowd as a “warrior” and longtime friend who has the best chance of winning the battleground state’s seat in the general election this fall.
David Laufman, the former chief of the Counterintelligence Branch of the Department of National Security at the Justice Department, said he considers a national security issue to be individuals and organizations that pose terrorist threats, cybersecurity threats or economic security threats, or are engaged in targeted influence operations in the United States on behalf of foreign powers.
“I think we have to be careful about classifying Americans as a national security risk just because of their ties to a foreign country,” Laufman said in an interview.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the nonprofit does not comment on specific campaigns.
But in general, he said, the organization has seen attacks on one aspect of a candidate – such as their place of birth – as a substitute for a more overt racial attack, such as their race or religion.
Flynn – Trump’s former national security adviser – was ousted in the Trump administration’s first month after the White House said he lied about his Russian contacts during the transition period.
He later admitted in a criminal case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that when he registered as a foreign agent for his Turkish work, his files with the Justice Department contained “false statements and omissions.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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