Published On: Mon, Oct 24th, 2022

Trump ally Tom Barrack takes stand in own defense in foreign lobbying case

Tom Barrack, a friend of former President Donald Trump who served as his inaugural committee chair, took the witness stand in his own defense in New York’s Brooklyn federal court Monday to push back against allegations that he sought to cash in on his ties to the-then president by acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates.

Barrack, a California billionaire, testified that his private equity fund, Colony Capital, did big business with other Middle East countries besides the UAE, including Qatar and Kuwait.

Asked if he could have agreed to act as an agent of just one investor, Barrack said that would be “impossible” because it would sour other investors in his multibillion-dollar fund, giving them the perception that “if you’re acting for them, you’re not going to act for us.”

He also answered questions from his defense attorney about his decades-long friendship with Trump, a relationship that he said ended up being “disastrous” for him professionally. Asked for an example, Barrack said, “I’m sitting with all of you today.”

Barrack said he’d had high hopes that he could influence Trump’s view on Middle East policy, and that Trump would tamp down some of his divisive language after taking office. “I thought he would transition, this rhetoric … the style was something that I and others didn’t appreciate,” Barrack said. “I thought he would just change.”

When Trump did not dial back his language, Barrack said his publicly traded company paid the price for its public ties to the president. “Owners of public shares vote with their feet,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”

Barrack, 75, is charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to the FBI. Prosecutors allege he used his friendship with Trump to “illegally provide” government officials from the UAE with access to the then-president and senior administration officials, and then lied to federal agents about his actions.

Prosecutors largely built their case against Barrack and his former assistant, Matthew Grimes, by showing jurors hundreds of their text and email messages with an Emirati businessman named Rashid Al Malik, who prosecutors have described as their go-between for dealings Emirati officials.

The messages showed Emirati officials giving feedback to Barrack on what he should say in TV interviews and input about what Trump should say about energy policy in a 2016 campaign speech.

Prosecutors said UAE officials also pressed Barrack for details on who Trump would pick for various high-level jobs, including CIA director and at the State and Defense departments.

Barrack’s lawyers have said their client is his own man and was doing what he thought was right — not acting as an Emirati agent.

In a court filing Monday, Barrack asked the judge to acquit him before the case goes to the jury because the government “failed to show that Mr. Barrack ever entered into an agreement to serve under the direction or control of the UAE. Even viewed in the light most favorable to the government, the evidence shows only that the ‘UAE’ sometimes asked Mr. Barrack to do something, or to consider doing something, and Mr. Barrack then decided for himself whether he would do it or not.”

In their opening arguments on Sept. 21, Barrack’s attorneys noted their client broke with the UAE over a blockade against Qatar — a claim bolstered by former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who testified on Barrack’s behalf last week. He said that Barrack had pushed him to persuade Trump to support Qatar in a blockade over the UAE.

Trump came to Barrack’s defense on social media Sunday night, calling him a “highly respected businessman whose DREAM was to see PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, a very good and noble thing.”

Trump said the “weaponized” Justice Department “has accused him of being a foreign agent of the UAE, which I don’t believe he was.”

“He NEVER spoke to me about ‘speeches’ and what to say on this subject,” Trump added in his Truth Social post. “He is being unfairly persecuted only because he is a supporter of ‘Trump.'”

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