The chairman of former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, Thomas Barrack, was charged in a conspiracy to illegally advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates and leverage his political connections to Trump to push that effort.
Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica, California, was one of three charged in a seven-count indictment accusing the group of conspiring to act as agents of the UAE for two years ending in April 2018. The former Trump confidant also was charged with obstruction of justice for “making multiple false statements” during a 2019 interview with federal agents.
“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. “The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former president.”
Federal authorities referred to an array of high level advisory positions Barrack held while attempting to exert influence on behalf of the UAE, including as a Trump campaign consultant; inaugural committee chairman; and as an adviser on foreign policy in the Middle East. Barrack, prosecutors said, also “sought appointment” to the government’s post as Special Envoy to the Middle East. Barrack and Trump have been friends for decades and Barrack was a significant fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign.
“The defendants used Barrack’s status as a senior outside advisor to the Campaign and, subsequently, to senior United States government officials, to advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE while simultaneously failing to notify the (U.S.) Attorney General that their actions were taken at the direction of senior UAE officials,” prosecutors said.
Representatives of foreign governments working in the U.S., are required by law to register their affiliations as foreign agents with the Justice Department.
Barrack and one of the co-defendants, Matthew Grimes of Aspen, Colorado, were arrested earlier Tuesday in California and were to make initial court appearances in Los Angeles.
William Sweeney, chief of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said the case involved “secret attempts to influence our highest officials.”
“American citizens have a right to know when foreign governments, or their agents, are attempting to exert influence on our government,” Sweeney said. “This is especially important to Americans during a Presidential election year, and the laws on the books were created to protect our nation from such untoward influence.”
Alleged UAE ‘wish list’
Prosecutors asserted that Barrack, through a third defendant, Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a 43-year-old UAE national, maintained regular contact with “the senior leadership of the UAE government.”
“On multiple occasions, Barrack referred to Alshahhi as the UAE’s ‘secret weapon’ to advance its foreign policy agenda in the United States,” prosecutors said.
In May 2016, according to federal authorities, Barrack inserted language in a Trump campaign speech on U.S. energy policy praising the UAE and “emailed an advance draft of the speech to Alshahhi for delivery to senior UAE officials.”
“Following the 2016 United States Presidential Election, the defendants repeatedly acted at the direction of UAE officials to influence the foreign policy positions of the incoming administration in favor of UAE interests,” prosecutors charged. “In December 2016, Barrack met with Grimes, Alshahhi and senior UAE government officials, during which he advised them to create a ‘wish list’ of U.S. foreign policy items that the UAE wanted accomplished in the first 100 days, six months, year and four years of the incoming administration.”
In a separate memo arguing for Barrack’s detention pending his transfer to Brooklyn, New York, where the charges were filed, prosecutors claimed that the Trump confidant routinely sought to shield his alleged conduct from authorities.
“The defendant’s repeated efforts to conceal his conduct reveal not only his consciousness of guilt, but also a repeated willingness to disregard the law, even when he learned of the government’s criminal investigation,” prosecutors asserted. “These characteristics weigh further in favor of the defendant’s removal in custody to the Eastern District of New York.”
Prosecutors described the evidence against Barrack as “overwhelming.”
“The defendant’s actions during the relevant time period are heavily documented and corroborated in thousands of emails, text messages, iCloud records, flight records, social media records, photographs, video recordings, and other types of evidence, all of which capture his agreement to take direction from UAE government officials, his activities on their behalf, and his communications with those UAE government officials and his co-conspirators.”
Contributing: David Jackson