(Bloomberg) — Tom Barrack emerged during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign as the genius face of aid workers and moderate Republicans. In a congressional speech that stood out for his positivity, Barrack compared his 40-year-old friend to a jeweler who would restore America’s “polish.”
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But it was the interests of another nation that the Colony Capital LLC founder would eventually seek to advance once Trump was in the White House, prosecutors say. Barrack was charged last year with acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to influence US policy. He is now on trial as Trump himself is under intense scrutiny for his handling of some of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Barrack, 75, pleaded not guilty along with his assistant Matthew Grimes, who was also charged in the case. Jury selection begins Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Those chosen will be able to hear testimonials about not only Barrack and Grimes but also Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the de facto leader of the UAE, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also known as MBZ.
“The defendants allegedly used their access to the most powerful members of government — congressmen, senior executives, and even the president of the United States — to provide information to, or otherwise assist, a foreign government,” he said. federal prosecutor Ryan Harris in a lawsuit in February.
The trial is taking place in the wake of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and amid renewed concerns over how Trump’s foreign policy and national security was handled, both before and after he entered the White House. The special captain appointed to review those documents on privilege issues will hold his first hearing on Tuesday at the same courthouse where Barrack’s trial begins.
The connection is a potential concern for his lawyers, who have already raised concerns about animus among potential jurors to the former president and his associates.
Fair jury fears
Others in Trump’s circle have expressed similar fears. Allen Weisselberg, the former president of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to tax fraud in August, in part because he feared renewed attention to his boss would turn jurors against him. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon also tried to postpone his contempt trial for failing to comply with House Jan’s subpoenas. 6, because he feared the ongoing panel hearings would stir up the jurors. The judge rejected Bannon’s request and he was subsequently convicted after three hours of jury deliberation.
The law at issue in Barrack’s case, referred to as Section 951, prohibits people from acting in “direction and control” of foreign nations without notifying the US Attorney General. Barrack is also accused of lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the UAE. He faces a whopping 20 years in prison, but would likely receive a much lesser sentence if convicted.
Prosecutors say Barrack gave the Emirates a taste of a Trump energy policy speech, pushed the country’s preferred candidates for positions in government and shared nonpublic information about the White House’s thinking on the bitter dispute of the UAE and Saudi Arabia with Qatar. According to the government, UAE state funds subsequently invested $374 million in a barracks fund and a real estate project it supported.
Barrack’s lawyers argue that the government has twisted innocent actions into sinister ones. They say the Lebanese-American barracks, who had a lot of experience doing business in the Middle East, simply helped his friend understand the region. Barrack’s lawyers have said he introduced Kushner to MBZ and other leaders in the Middle East. While the judge has not released a witness list, the defense has raised the possibility that Kushner, Mnuchin, Tillerson and even Trump himself could be called to testify.
Barrack’s attorneys say there is no connection between his White House contacts and the $74 million that Mubadala Investment Co. has invested in a Los Angeles office tower and the $300 million Abu Dhabi Investment Authority put into a digital infrastructure fund. The defense filed a heavily redacted motion Friday asking U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to rule out evidence of a $300 million investment because it would harm the jury. The judge ruled Monday against Barrack on a similar motion.
Trump and his top officials “were well aware that Mr. Barrack was in contact with several leaders in the Middle East, as these US officials at various points used Mr. Barrack as a useful source of information about the Middle East.” said defense attorneys in a court filing. “He was never a UAE agent.”
How the process will unfold has been the subject of intense legal maneuvering in recent weeks. Defense attorneys managed to get evidence last week regarding Barrack’s wealth, expenses and lifestyle, who is free on a $250 million bail, barred from the trial.
“Evidence of too many summer homes would be highly relevant if Mr. Barrack were on trial for his success, but he isn’t,” they wrote in a motion. Cogan agreed, ruling Tuesday that the prosecution “exceeded.”
But Cogan on Friday denied a defense bid to block evidence about the 2017 arrest of Republican Congressman Steve Stockman for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions and using the money for personal expenses and political campaigns. Prosecutors allege that Barrack and Grimes were under a UAE directive at the time to push for Stockman’s appointment as US ambassador to the Gulf state.
“Evidence from Stockman’s arrest is relevant to show that defendants were unable to comply with a UAE directive due to circumstances beyond their control, as it becomes more likely that defendants failed to comply with willful disobedience or a change of heart, but rather because of impossibility,” the judge said.
Stockman was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but Trump commuted his sentence in December 2020.
‘Not nice in every way’
Keeping the jurors from thinking about Trump when they see Barrack is arguably the biggest challenge for his lawyers. In addition to his role as a major fundraiser and driver of 2016, Barrack also served as the chairman of his friend’s inaugural committee. Notably, he broke with Trump over his claims of a stolen 2020 election, but his lawyers urged Cogan to fire more than 30 people from the jury pool for displaying “a disqualifying degree of bias” against Trump.
Potential jurors said Trump is “the one publicly known person they least admire,” calling him “a con man” and deeming him “divisive, ignorant, racist, misogynistic and unsympathetic in every way,” Michael Schachter, a lawyer for Barrack, said in an August letter to the court.
But Cogan largely rejected Barrack’s request, saying that “mere dislike” of Trump was not enough reason to conclude that potential jurors could not be fair and impartial with regard to people associated with him. The judge allowed most of them to remain in the jury pool and will begin questioning them individually on Monday.
The case is US v. Al Malik Alshahhi, 21-cr-00371, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
(Updates to Monday’s ruling on motion. A previous version of this story corrected the spelling of the judge’s name in the 11th paragraph.)
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