In his short time as the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams has built a reputation for playing a starring role in some of the most cartoonish moments that New Yorkers have lived through in recent years. But earlier this month, Adams’s seriocomic reign sunk to a new and outlandish low when federal agents raided the home of his lead fundraiser—suddenly linking Adams to a bizarre Turkish foreign lobbying and illicit donation scheme.
The details that have emerged so far remain murky, but the little we know already paints a damning picture. According to The New York Times, a search warrant pertinent to the case centered on “whether the mayor’s campaign kicked back benefits” to “Turkish officials,” as well as to a Brooklyn-based construction company with Turkish connections. CNN further reported that investigators are searching for evidence that foreign nationals “may have ‘bundled’ donations” to the mayor’s campaign—with others acting as “straw contributors” to obscure the foreign sources of the funds.
At first blush, the scheme borders on the ridiculous; as mayor, Adams is hardly a prominent figure in American foreign policy and would not be the most logical official for foreign financiers or regimes like Turkey to target. But on Sunday, we got confirmation of what these donors may have gotten for their alleged payments. As The New York Times reported, Adams “pressed city officials” to fast-track the opening of a high-rise for the Turkish Consulate General, despite concerns about safety issues. Adams’s “unusual intervention” allowed Turkish autocrat Recep Erdoğan to preside over the opening of what is “reportedly Turkey’s most expensive mission”—a building that, as Erdoğan claimed, reflects Turkey’s “increased power.”
Foreign dictatorships are always expanding and refining the broad range of ways in which they target, manipulate, and sway American policymakers, and this scheme seems to have placed Adams at the center of some of these innovations. As Turkish officials were undoubtedly aware, Adams—who has not been formally accused of any crimes and who claimed he constantly told staff to “follow the law”—was a clear mark, as he’d never evinced any concerns about accepting foreign funds previously. In 2021, the New York Daily News reported that Adams had “accepted thousands of dollars in travel and other perks” from some of the world’s most kleptocratic regimes, including China and Azerbaijan. Turkey, likewise, bankrolled Adams’s travel, paying thousands of dollars more for Adams’s multiple trips to the country since 2015. Adams defended his regime-sponsored visits as “totally appropriate,” claiming he was focused on trying to “further relations” between New York City and other nations.