Federal prosecutors have said a Trump confidant tried to secretly sway foreign policy in favor of the United Arab Emirates, but that accusation was undermined Thursday in testimony by former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Mnuchin said Thomas Barrack, a billionaire friend of former President Donald Trump, advocated for one of the UAE's top adversaries during a regional foreign policy crisis. Mnuchin said Barrack sided with Qatar when it was blockaded by its neighbors, whom the Trump administration supported.
Mnuchin, who was treasury secretary from the beginning through the end of Trump's presidency, is the second member of his administration to testify during.
While on the witness stand, Mnuchin described a June 2017 meeting with Barrack at his office in the Treasury building in D.C. the day after the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other nations imposed a blockade on Qatar. Mnuchin said that although the administration backed the blockade, Barrack had supported Qatar and called it a "big distraction."
"He thought the president made a mistake," Mnuchin told the court. "His position was clearly in support of Qatar."
Mnuchin said that as Treasury Secretary he spoke with business people including Barrack, and had discussions related to foreign policy issues. Mnuchin said Barrack "had a lot of experience in that area."
While he was treasury secretary, Mnuchin maintained he never shared any confidential information with Barrack, nor did he ask for him to share anything with the UAE.
Prosecutors called former Secretary of Stateon Oct. 3. Tillerson, who served from February 2017 through March 2018, said he didn't know Barrack was communicating with Emerati officials and never asked for Barrack's involvement in foreign policy discussions.
Tillerson was also questioned about a planned summit at Camp David, at which Trump hoped to resolve an economic blockade of Qatar by the UAE and other Gulf monarchies. Mnuchin would not expand upon discussions regarding Camp David, citing executive privilege.
During cross examination, prosecutors asked Mnuchin about his private equity company, Liberty Strategic Capital. Mnuchin acknowledged that a UAE sovereign wealth fund is among his company's investors.
Mnuchin later explained that sovereign wealth funds are "some of the largest investors" in private equity firms. Past treasury secretaries like Jack Lew and Henry Paulson are also now working in private equity.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Mnuchin worked for Goldman Sachs and then went on to found an investment firm. He later served as finance chair for the Trump campaign. Barrack and Mnuchin had been friends for years, and Barrack attended Mnuchin's 2017 wedding, Mnuchin said Thursday.
Barrack is accused of working with an Emirati official to undermine the summit, which ultimately was not held.
Prosecutors also say Barrack leveraged his friendship with Trump in an attempt to advance a "wish list" of UAE foreign policy positions.
The government wrapped its case Wednesday. The monthlong proceedings have revolved around text messages and emails sent between Barrack and his co-defendants, a former employee named Matthew Grimes and Rashid Al Malik, an Emirati citizen then living in California. In messages shown to the jury, Barrack, Grimes and Al Malik discussed Barrack's advocacy for Trump and American foreign policy in the Gulf. Prosecutors have shown messages from which it appears Al Malik relayed information from Barrack and Grimes to senior officials in the UAE government.
Barrack, Grimes and Al Malik were charged in July 2021. Barrack, who at the time was executive chairman of investment firm Colony Capital, has entered not guilty pleas to the charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI about his dealings. The company is now known as DigitalBridge. Grimes enteredto charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Al Malik, who was also charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, has not been located by law enforcement.
Barrack and Grimes' attorneys have said their communications with UAE officials were related to their business dealings. They've said Trump and the U.S. State Department were aware of Barrack's international business relationships.
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