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Tipsheet

Could This Photo Sink Dr. Oz's Candidacy?

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Just weeks before the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, a new photo has surfaced of Dr. Mehmet Oz, a U.S. Senate candidate and dual U.S.-Turkish citizen, that calls into question a pledge he made on the campaign trail that he’s “never been politically involved in Turkey in any capacity.”

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In the picture, the Trump-endorsed Oz is voting in Turkey’s most recent election in 2018. The image was shared on the Facebook page of Turkey's consulate in Manhattan. 

In confirming its authenticity, Oz’s spokeswoman, Brittany Yanick, told ABC News that “voting in an election is far different from being actively engaged in the political work of the Turkish government, which Dr. Oz has never been involved with.”

“There is no security issue whatsoever,” she added, claiming he voted for Muharrem Ince, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan. 

According to Yanick, Oz did not plan to vote ahead of time, but did so while he was at the consulate discussing "humanitarian work on behalf of Syrian refugees in Turkey."

Some digging by Republican strategist Matt Wolking, however, raises questions about Oz's ties to Erdogan.

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The newly-surfaced photo is also raising questions about his "dual loyalties."

Elected officials are not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as civilians who seek security clearances for sensitive government work; once sworn-in, lawmakers are granted access to classified information, unless the executive branch denies them certain information.

But the background check process for civilians can also "provide a framework for analyzing whether someone is trustworthy or not," according to Kel McClanahan, the executive director of National Security Counselors, a nonprofit public interest law firm. And for McClanahan, voting in another country's election would set off a "giant, flashing red light."

Born and raised in Ohio, Oz has said that he maintains dual U.S.-Turkey citizenship to care for his mother in Turkey, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He also served in the Turkish army for 60 days in the early 1980s -- reportedly to retain his Turkish citizenship -- and maintains real estate holdings in Turkey, plus has an endorsement deal the country's national airline, Turkish Airlines.

"Any single one of those would be enough to torpedo a [security] clearance," McClanahan said. "Taken together, I would not put good odds on that person getting a clearance anywhere."

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Not all national security experts see Oz's dual citizenship and 2018 vote as a deal-breaker, however. 

Steve Aftergood, a senior analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said that because Oz has been transparent about his ties to Turkey, his dual citizenship alone is more of a political concern for him than a risk to national security.

"The fact that [Oz] has made no effort to conceal his dual citizenship counts in his favor," Aftergood said. "Voters will have an opportunity to decide whether or not it is of concern to them."

The Pennsylvania primary is May 17. 

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