The chair of Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested on Tuesday on charges alleging he conspired to influence Trump’s foreign policy positions to benefit the United Arab Emirates and commit crimes striking at what prosecutors described as “the very heart of our democracy”.
Tom Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica, California, was among three men charged in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, with conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent as they tried to influence foreign policy while Trump was running in 2016 and later while he was president.
Besides conspiracy, Barrack was charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal agents. Also charged in a seven-count indictment were Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colorado, and Rashid al Malik, 43, of the United Arab Emirates.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected president, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances, acting assistant attorney general Mark Lesko said in a release.
Prosecutors said Barrack not only agreed to promote UAE foreign policy interests through his unique access and influence, but also provided UAE government officials with sensitive information about developments within the Trump administration – including how senior US officials felt about the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.
“Worse, in his communications with Al Malik, the defendant framed his efforts to obtain an official position within the administration as one that would enable him to further advance the interests of the UAE, rather than the interests of the United States,” prosecutors wrote in a letter seeking his detention.
Authorities said Barrack served as an informal adviser to Trump’s campaign from April 2016 to November 2016 and chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee from November 2016 to January 2017. Beginning in January 2017, he informally advised senior US government officials on Middle East foreign policy, they added.
Authorities cited several specific instances when Barrack or others allegedly sought to influence US policies, noting that, in May 2016, Barrack inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech Trump delivered about US energy policy and emailed an advance draft of the speech to be delivered to senior UAE officials.
“Similarly, throughout 2016 and 2017, the defendants sought and received direction and feedback, including talking points, from senior UAE officials in connection with national press appearances Barrack used to promote the interests of the UAE,” authorities said in a statement.
They said that after one appearance in which Barrack repeatedly praised the United Arab Emirates, Barrack emailed al Malik, saying: “I nailed it … for the home team,” referring to the UAE.
Phone and email messages sent to the UAE embassy in Washington were not immediately returned.
Barrack will plead not guilty, according to a spokesperson.
“Mr Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,“ the spokesperson said.
Grimes also was arrested on Tuesday in southern California. A message seeking comment was sent to his attorney.
Bill Coffield, an attorney for al Malik – who was not in custody on Tuesday – said his client had cooperated extensively with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller and that there was “nothing new here”. He said that al Malik had simply tried to foster a good relationship between the country where he was born “and the country in which he lives and works, both of which he loves”.
Barrack appeared at an initial appearance in federal court in Los Angeles, where prosecutors were to ask a US magistrate judge to bring him to New York.
Noting that Forbes estimated his net worth at $1bn in March 2013 and his access to a private plane, prosecutors called him “an extremely wealthy and powerful individual with substantial ties to Lebanon, the UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” who poses a serious flight risk in a letter filed before his appearance.
Barrack is the latest in a long line of Trump associates to face criminal charges, including his former campaign chair, his former deputy campaign chair, his former chief strategist, his former national security adviser, his former personal lawyer and his company’s longtime chief financial officer.