Thomas Barrack, Trump Fund-Raiser, Is Indicted on Lobbying Charge
Thomas Barrack, Trump Fund-Raiser, Is Indicted on Lobbying Charge
Mr. Barrack, the chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, was accused of failing to register as a lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.
Prosecutors say Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a friend of former President Donald J. Trump’s, used his position to promote the United Arab Emirates’ agenda while soliciting direction from Emirati officials.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
WASHINGTON — Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of former President Donald J. Trump’s and one of his top 2016 campaign fund-raisers, was arrested in California on Tuesday on federal charges of failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.
A seven-count indictment accused Mr. Barrack, 74, of using his access to Mr. Trump to advance the foreign policy goals of the United Arab Emirates and then repeatedly misleading federal agents about his activities during a June 2019 interview.
Federal prosecutors said Mr. Barrack used his position as an outside adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign to publicly promote the Emirates’ agenda while soliciting direction, feedback and talking points from senior Emirati officials.
Once Mr. Trump was elected, they said, Mr. Barrack invited senior Emirati officials to give him a “wish list” of foreign policy moves they wanted Washington to take within the first 100 days, first six months, first year and by the end of Mr. Trump’s term, prosecutors said.
Among other key Emirati objectives, Mr. Barrack pushed for the Trump administration not to hold a summit with Qatar, a rival Persian Gulf power that was under a blockade that the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, an Emirati ally, had organized, they said.
Mr. Barrack is latest in a long string of former Trump aides, fund-raisers and associates to face criminal charges. The former president’s company, the Trump Organization, and its chief financial officer were indicted this month on state fraud and tax charges. Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, pleaded guilty in a hush-money scandal.
Mr. Trump pardoned his 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who had been convicted in the special counsel’s investigation, and his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who had been under federal indictment on charges that he misused money he helped raise for a group backing Mr. Trump’s border wall.
Authorities have scrutinized a number of Trump aides and associates over suspicions that they improperly provided governments or other foreign interests access to Mr. Trump, his campaign or his administration. The indictment portrayed Mr. Barrack as a flagrant example of abusing such influence.
“The defendant is charged with extremely serious offenses based on conduct that strikes at the very heart of our democracy,” the prosecutors in the case wrote to a federal judge in Los Angeles, asking her to detain Mr. Barrack pending his removal to New York for a bail hearing. “The defendant is charged with acting under the direction or control of the most senior leaders of the U.A.E. over a course of years.”
Matt Herrington, a lawyer for Mr. Barrack, said: “Tom Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”
Two other men were also charged with acting as Emirati agents without registering with the Justice Department, as required: Matthew Grimes, a former top executive at Mr. Barrack’s company, and Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, an Emirati businessman who is close to the Emirates’ rulers.
Mr. Grimes, 27, was arrested on Tuesday. Authorities were unable to arrest Mr. al-Malik, 43. An Emirati citizen, he had long lived primarily in California, prosecutors said. But three years ago, after the F.B.I. interviewed him, he left the country and has not returned, prosecutors said in court papers. Lawyers or representatives for the two men could not reached for comment.
Prosecutors said Mr. Trump was among those betrayed by Mr. Barrack’s hidden allegiance to a foreign government from early 2016 to early 2018. And Mr. Barrack’s hopes to influence Mr. Trump or his aides were sometimes dashed.
For example, Mr. Barrack had hoped that Mr. Trump would name him to be a Middle East envoy or an ambassador to the Emirates. Prosecutors said that Mr. Barrack advised Mr. al-Malik that such posts would empower the Emirates, and that Mr. al-Malik agreed Mr. Barrack could “deliver more” in such roles.
But Mr. Trump did not give Mr. Barrack either job, and he remained an outside adviser to the administration.
The indictment suggests that Mr. Barrack was working in direct cooperation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the Emirates and ostensibly one of Washington’s closest partners in the region. That could have implications for current U.S. policy.
The indictment does not explicitly name Crown Prince Mohammed, but appears to clearly refer to him as “Emirati Official 1.” For instance, it states that “Emirati Official 1” met with Mr. Trump at the White House on May 15, 2017, the same day Crown Prince Mohammed met with the president. Other descriptions also match that of Crown Prince Mohammed, often referred to by American officials as M.B.Z.
The indictment said that “Emirati Official 1” worked with Mr. Barrack to help scuttle U.S. plans for a conference at Camp David, Md., to press the Emirates to mend the rift with Qatar, another American partner.
The indictment also referred to Mr. Barrack’s work with “Emirati Official 5,” who appears to fit the description of the Emirates’ influential ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba. The indictment said that early in the Trump transition, the official wrote to Mr. Barrack to ask if he had insight into the new administration’s foreign policy appointments.
“I do, and we are working through them in real time and I have our regional interest in high profile,” Mr. Barrack wrote back, according to the indictment.
Mr. Barrack’s real estate and private equity firm, Colony Capital, profited from substantial investments from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, countries that are closely aligned. In the three years after Mr. Trump became the Republican Party’s nominee for president in July 2016, Colony Capital received about $1.5 billion from those two Persian Gulf countries through investments or other transactions. Of that, about $474 million came from sovereign wealth funds controlled by their governments.
Mr. Barrack stepped down as Colony Capital’s executive chairman in March. The firm was recently renamed DigitalBridge. According to a filing this month with Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Barrack owns 10 percent of that firm and is one of its directors.
Mr. Barrack has been friends with Mr. Trump since the 1980s. He helped raise money for Mr. Trump’s first presidential campaign and ran his transition team after Mr. Trump won. He was perhaps best known for leading Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised $107 million — the most money ever collected and spent to celebrate an inauguration.
Critics claimed the committee became a hub for peddling access to foreign officials or business leaders, or those acting on their behalf, but investigations by several local jurisdictions into the committee’s activities petered out with no charges filed.
The federal inquiry into Mr. Barrack’s ties with foreign leaders was an outgrowth of the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The special counsel’s work put a spotlight on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA, and led to a greater effort by the Justice Department to enforce it. The law requires those who work for foreign governments, political parties or other entities to influence American policy or public opinion to disclose their activities to the department.
Several former Trump aides who were charged by the special counsel acknowledged violating the statute in guilty pleas, including Mr. Manafort, the 2016 campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, the deputy chairman. Mr. Mueller referred Mr. Barrack’s case to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, apparently because the allegations went beyond his investigative mandate.
According to the indictment, Mr. al-Malik was a key intermediary between Mr. Barrack and the Emirati leadership. In court papers, prosecutors said Mr. Barrack told State Department officials in 2017 that he did not know where Mr. al-Malik was from or whether he was affiliated with any foreign government. But privately, prosecutors said, Mr. Barrack repeatedly referred to Mr. al-Malik as the Emirates’ “secret weapon” to advance its foreign policy agenda with the Trump campaign and administration.
After one media appearance, Mr. Barrack emailed Mr. al-Malik, boasting that he had “nailed it” for the “home team” — meaning the Emirates, the indictment said. The two men repeatedly met personally with high-level leaders of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, including in May, August and December of 2016, court papers say.
Late Tuesday, a federal magistrate detained Mr. Barrack and Mr. Grimes, pending a bail hearing on Monday. Prosecutors had described Mr. Barrack as a flight risk, citing his wealth, Lebanese citizenship, private jet and deep ties to the Emirates and other Persian Gulf countries.
The indictment comes at a delicate moment for U.S. diplomacy in the region because the Emirates is waiting for the Biden administration to finalize approval of a $23 billion sale of high-tech weaponry agreed upon under Mr. Trump — including 50 F-35 fighter jets, as well as sophisticated drones.
Sharon LaFraniere reported from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum from New York. David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.