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Thomas Barrack, longtime Trump ally, indicted for lobbying activities for UAE

Ex-Trump inaugural chair charged
Tom Barrack arrested on charges of acting as an agent of a foreign government 02:15

Washington — Thomas Barrack, a close adviser to former President Trump and chair of his inaugural committee, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with a violating federal lobbying law after allegedly failing to disclose his work on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, the Justice Department said.

A seven-count indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn charging Barrack and two others, Matthew Grimes and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, for their alleged efforts between April 2016 and April 2018 acting as agents of the UAE. Barrack attempted to influence the foreign policy positions of then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and later the incoming Trump administration, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors claim Barrack and the two others sought to influence public opinion in the U.S. in favor of UAE interests. Barrack is also facing charges of obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents during a June 2019 interview.

He and Grimes, an employee of Barrack's, were arrested in California and are set to appear in court in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon. Alshahhi remains at large, according to the Justice Department.

Barrack will plead not guilty, his spokesman, Matt Herrington, said in a statement.

Key Speakers at Milken Institute Japan Symposium
Thomas Barrack, chairman and chief executive officer of Colony Capital Inc., speaks during the closing reception at the Milken Institute Japan Symposium in Tokyo on March 25, 2019.  Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"Tom Barrack made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty," he said.

Barrack is a longtime friend of Mr. Trump's and led his Presidential Inaugural Committee. He has, however, come under scrutiny from federal, state and local investigators for the committee's activities. The charges unsealed Tuesday appear unrelated to the inaugural committee.

"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 statement. "The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former president."

According to the 46-page indictment, Barrack leveraged his relationships with Mr. Trump and top government officials to unlawfully worked to advance the interests of the UAE and failed to notify the attorney general he was lobbying on behalf of UAE officials, in violation of federal law. 

Prosecutors say that on several occasions, Barrack referred to Alshahhi as the UAE's "secret weapon" to push the nation's foreign policy agenda in the U.S.

The indictment details several instances in which Barrack and the two co-defendants attempted to advance the interests of the UAE. In May 2016, prosecutors allege Barrack added language praising the UAE into a campaign speech to be delivered by Mr. Trump about U.S. energy policy and shared an advanced draft of the speech with Alshahhi to give to senior UAE officials. The three men also allegedly sought and received talking points and other feedback from top UAE officials in connection with Barrack's press appearances in 2016 and 2017.

According to the Justice Department, following one national appearance during which Barrack lauded the UAE, he emailed Alshahhi, "I nailed it. ... for the home team," in reference to the UAE.

After Mr. Trump was elected president in November 2016, the indictment claims Barrack and the other two men acted at the direction of UAE officials to influence the policy positions of the incoming administration to benefit their interests. They also allegedly agreed to promote a favored candidate for U.S. ambassador to the UAE, and Barrack agreed to give Alshahhi information about the views of senior federal officials after a White House meeting with top UAE representatives, prosecutors claim.

In another episode detailed in the indictment, Barrack told Alshahhi during a September 2017 meeting in New York City that the Trump administration was considering a summit at Camp David with government officials from the UAE, Qatar and other Middle Eastern nations. Alshahhi allegedly told UAE officials about the potential meeting and indicated he did not believe it would be in the country's interest. 

The two then met again several days later, after which Barrack requested to speak with Mr Trump about the Middle East, according to the indictment. The summit at Camp David never occurred.

Federal prosecutors say Barrack made false statements to the FBI during a voluntary interview about facilitating communications between Mr. Trump and officials from the UAE after the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors claim Barrack arranged at least one phone call between Mr. Trump and two Emirati officials, and provided contact information for them to the then-president-elect's assistant.

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