Trump hosts freed detainee Pastor Brunson at the White House

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about Pastor Andrew Brunson after landing at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport, Oct. 12, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio.PlayEvan Vucci/AP
WATCH American freed from captivity in Turkey to meet with Trump

President Donald Trump welcomed American Pastor Andrew Brunson to the White House on Saturday afternoon after he returned home from nearly two years of detention in Turkey.

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“For Andrew, it’s been an interesting day, because as you probably heard, I said a little bit earlier, from a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours — that’s not bad,” Trump said.

Trump and Brunson met in the Oval Office with Brunson’s family, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and members of Congress.

The president began the meeting by noting the commitment of Brunson’s wife, Norine, to ensuring his release, and he thanked members of Congress for their efforts.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about Pastor Andrew Brunson after landing at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport, Oct. 12, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio.Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump speaks about Pastor Andrew Brunson after landing at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport, Oct. 12, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We have been negotiating long and hard,” Trump said.

He then took a swipe at the Obama administration by noting he did not pay any ransom for Brunson’s return.

“We do not pay ransom in this country, at least any longer,” Trump said. He also thanked Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan and added that he was “surprised” Brunson’s release didn’t come about months ago.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump prays with American pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House, Oct. 13, 2018, in Washington.Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Donald Trump prays with American pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House, Oct. 13, 2018, in Washington.

“They’ve had a lot of difficult situations going on and I do want to thank President Erdogan for making this possible,” Trump said. “It wasn’t easy for him.”

In a powerful moment, Brunson thanked the president for helping with his release, then asked if he could pray for him. He got on his knees, placed his hands on Trump and led the room in prayer.

When Brunson was finished, Trump asked Norine, jokingly, who she voted for. Pastor Brunson chimed in and said he sent in an absentee ballot from prison, inciting laughter in the room.

Brunson landed at Joint Base Andrews around noon with his wife. Tony Perkins, who was traveling with Brunson as part of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told ABC News he was "thrilled" upon landing on U.S. soil.

Brunson had been detained on suspicions of espionage and plotting to overthrow the government. A Turkish court sentenced Brunson, an evangelical Christian pastor, to more than three years in prison on terrorism charges but then set him free.

He has denied the allegations against him.

After his release, Brunson was flown to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, where he was greeted by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grennell, who presented him with an American flag. Grennell said Brunson "immediately" lowered his head to kiss the flag.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump meets with Pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 13, 2018 in Washington.Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press via Newscom
President Donald Trump meets with Pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 13, 2018 in Washington.

The timing of Brunson's release — right as a Saudi journalist has gone missing while in Istanbul at the Saudi consulate — has raised some eyebrow, but Trump said it is a "strict coincidence."

The president and Pompeo revealed that they have not yet heard or seen the reported audio of Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi consulate.

Trump was also asked about what he meant in his 60 Minutes interview when he said there’d be "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia if it is found to have been responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance.

"We will be sitting together with folks here, and [will] make a determination," Trump said. He went on to say that cancelling the massive military arms deal between the United States and the Saudis as any kind of punishment would be a mistake.

"I actually think we would be punishing ourselves if we did that. There are other things we could do that are powerful and strong, and we will do it," Trump said. "As of this moment nobody knows what happened."

PHOTO: Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife Norrine arrive at the airport in Izmir, Turkey Oct. 12, 2018. Umit Bektas /Reuters
Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife Norrine arrive at the airport in Izmir, Turkey Oct. 12, 2018.

Trump still has not spoken with King Salman about the incident, but told reporters in the room he would be in contact either tonight or tomorrow.

When asked if Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin still plans to go to "Davos in the Desert," a finance event in Saudi Arabia, Trump punted to Pompeo.

“What do you think about that?” Trump asked.

Pompeo said they still need to “evaluate” that situation and said he spoke to Mnuchin last night.

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