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Former President Donald Trump teams up Friday night in Pennsylvania with Mehmet Oz, the GOP Senate nominee he recently endorsed in the crowded, combative and hugely expensive Republican Senate contest in the key battleground state with a week and a half before primary day in Keystone State.
Trump’s visit comes with the latest public opinion poll indicating Oz holds a slim advantage over two of its main rivals in the GOP battle to succeed retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey in a race that could ultimately decide whether Republicans win back the Senate majority in November’s midterm elections.
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But hours before the rally at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds in the small town of Greensburg, southeast of Pittsburgh, the issue of Oz’s ties to Turkey had returned firmly to the political forefront.
The rally comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a Trump ally who served as CIA director and top US diplomat during the former president’s administration but endorsed and campaigned for his fellow West graduate Point David McCormick, Oz’s main rival for the nomination – raised national security clearance questions over Oz’s multiple Turkish connections.
Pompeo, a Fox News contributor, repeatedly stressed on a call with reporters that there are “things we don’t know about his connection to the Turkish government,” and that Oz “needs a explanation to the people of Pennsylvania,” because voters “need to understand the scope and depth of his relationship with the Turkish government.”
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Oz, the heart surgeon, author and celebrity doctor who, until launching his Senate campaign late last year, was the host of the popular “Dr. Oz Show” on television, has faced questions about his dual nationality with Turkey since declaring his candidacy. He has explained on several occasions that he kept his dual nationality in order to take care of his mother, who lives in Istanbul and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
He also repeatedly noted during his Senate campaign that his service in the Turkish military – for 60 days in the 1980s – was done in order to retain his dual citizenship.
Oz, which also has an endorsement deal with Turkey’s half-government-owned national airline, was attacked by McCormick during a debate on Wednesday, which is likely the latest showdown between the two main contenders for the nomination. GOP ahead of the May 17 primary.
McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, Gulf War veteran and Treasury Department official in former President George W. Bush’s administration, claimed Oz was “compromised” for serving in the Turkish army.
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The latest flashpoint is a photograph of Oz voting in the 2018 Turkish presidential election. The photo, first reported by ABC News, comes from the Facebook page of the Turkish Consulate in New York, where the Oz campaign confirms that their candidate has voted. But the Oz team denied that their vote amounted to “political involvement” with Turkey.
Pompeo noted that American politicians are often criticized for not voting, but that Oz “chose to vote in a Turkish presidential election, but not in an American election…That raises a lot of judgments in my mind about his priorities. And we need to get him and his team to explain why he had the time, energy and focus to vote in a Turkish election, but not in an American election.”
In response, Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yannick said “these are pathetic and xenophobic attacks on Dr. Oz by David McCormick, who should be ashamed of himself. Now that he’s lost the President Trump’s endorsement, he resorted to sad and desperate attacks that are no different than the tropes used against Catholics and Jews.”
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Highlighting comments Oz first made to Fox News in March, Yannick noted that “Dr. Oz has previously said that once elected to the Senate, he would renounce his citizenship. There is no problem security, and David McCormick knows that Dr Oz has maintained his dual nationality to facilitate the care of his mother who has Alzheimer’s disease and who lives there.”
But Pompeo told Fox News on Friday, “I don’t see this as politics. It’s separate and apart from politics. It’s about making sure voters have the opportunity to know all the things, the good characteristics and shortcomings. , of the candidates who come forward. And the questions, in my opinion, have not been answered satisfactorily… I want to make sure that I do everything I can to put the information between the voters’ hands that they can use to make a real, informed judgment about who they vote for, which is why I’m jumping on that call this morning.
Pompeo also noted that “elected officials get clearances after being elected.”
“That is why this matter needs to be clarified, brought to a conclusion so that the voters of Pennsylvania can know what they are doing and the American people can trust that each of their leaders…. [is] fit for duty as a member of the House of Representatives, in this case, the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania,” he pointed out.
The Oz campaign provided a quote from national security expert William Jr. Parker III, who noted that Oz “is a first-generation American born on American soil”.
Parker, a retired senior U.S. Navy officer and former president and CEO of the East West Institute, said, “I watched him [Oz] protect the health and well-being of countless Americans and others in need. Dr. Oz is an America-First candidate and we would be lucky to have him represent us in the US Senate.”
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More than 15 months away from the White House, Trump remains the GOP’s most popular and influential politician as he continues to back Republican candidates from top to bottom and hold rallies across the country for some of the best candidates it supports.
Trump took a lot of credit earlier this week when another candidate he recently backed in another jam-packed and divisive GOP Senate primary — former hedge fund manager and best-selling author JD Vance — took won the Senate nomination in neighboring Ohio.
Vance will also speak at Friday night’s rally in Pennsylvania.
Trump also invited Representative Alex Mooney of West Virginia, from another neighboring state, to speak at the rally.
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Mooney, who is backed by Trump, faces Republican Rep. David McKinley in a GOP congressional primary on Tuesday.
The state lost a congressional seat in the once-a-decade congressional redistribution, and the two Republican incumbents were drawn into the same district. The showdown, like the Ohio and Pennsylvania GOP Senate primaries, partially turned into a test of the former president’s influence.
Fox News’ Courtney De George contributed to this story
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