Trump Associate Denies Illegal Foreign Lobbying for United Arab Emirates
NEW YORK — Real estate investment mogul Thomas J. Barrack Jr. testified in a New York courtroom Monday that his affiliation with Donald Trump’s presidency was “disastrous” for his business and personal life.
He is charged with lying to the FBI and illegal lobbying for the United Arab Emirates while he worked as a fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign.
Barrack, founder of investment firm Colony Capital, Inc., acknowledged he discussed business with United Arab Emirates government officials but believed it was harmless.
He also said he never would have gotten involved with the Trump presidency if he had known the consequences. He described them as a “nightmare” for his company.
His testimony gave an insider’s view of the tumultuous mixed role of lobbyists within the Trump administration.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” which most specifically referred to how lobbyists exert their influence over politics. He pledged ethical reforms to restrict lobbying.
After taking office, Trump required a five-year ban on serving as a lobbyist after working in the executive branch of government. One of his last acts as president was to reverse the policy, thereby allowing his staff to work as lobbyists.
Records of lobbyist registrations with the clerks of the House and Senate show the number of lobbyists increased during the Trump administration.
In July 2021, Barrack was arrested on federal charges for acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist, obstructing justice and giving false statements to the FBI.
The seven-count indictment said the private equity investor tried to influence Trump to change foreign policies to benefit the United Arab Emirates. Barrack was a friend and business associate of Trump before his presidency.
He pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in New York and was released from custody after posting a $250 million bond with cash security of $5 million.
A former top executive at Colonial Capital, Matthew Grimes, and Emirati businessman Rashid al-Malik also were indicted on charges of acting as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department.
Grimes has pleaded not guilty. Al-Malik fled the United States in 2018 after being questioned by the FBI.
Part of Barrack’s testimony Monday consisted of fending off accusations that he knew al-Malik was recruiting him to act as a United Arab Emirates lobbyist.
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe Rashid was some kind of government agent to the UAE?” Michael Schachter, Barrack’s attorney, asked.
“No sir,” Barrack replied.
“Did he ask if you were willing to agree to operate in the U.S. subject to direction or control of the UAE?” Schachter asked.
“Absolutely not,” Barrack replied.
Prosecutors said al-Malik posed as a businessman but operated secretly as a United Arab Emirates government agent.
“The defendant Barrack even called Rashid al-Malik the UAE’s secret weapon to influence the United States,” said assistant U.S. attorney Hiral Mehta.
Barrack admitted to meeting with United Arab Emirates officials but said he believed he was trying to help foreign relations, such as after Trump banned travel in 2017 to the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The executive order prompted protests in the United States and condemnations among Middle Eastern countries.
“I knew that Donald Trump, regardless of what anybody thought, was smart, was instinctively attuned to different points of view and that this Muslim ban thing, in my opinion, was a big problem for him … ” Barrack said. “What President Trump didn’t have was any of the reps of the Muslim community or the Arab community [advising him] about what to do. And I thought it would be beneficial for all of them to create a dialogue.”
Shortly before Barrack testified, Trump posted a message on his Truth Social internet platform, saying Barrack is a “highly respected businessman.” Trump also said he did not believe Barrack was a United Arab Emirates agent.
“He is being unfairly persecuted only because he is a supporter of ‘Trump,’” Trump said in his message.
Barrack was less complimentary of the former president.
When asked by his attorney whether he would have backed a different presidential candidate if he knew what would happen in the Trump administration, Barrack replied, “In hindsight, unquestionably.”
He said he never would have guessed his presidency would be so divisive.
The prosecution has ended its portion of the trial that has stretched for five weeks. The defense continued Tuesday.
Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack
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