Thomas Barrack Charged With Illegally Lobbying Trump on Behalf of UAE

Seven-count indictment claims he influenced the foreign policy positions of the Trump 2016 campaign and U.S. government.

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Update: Thomas Barrack was acquitted of all charges in November 2022.

The private equity investor and close friend of former President Donald Trump, Thomas Barrack, was arrested Tuesday morning in Los Angeles on charges related to illegally lobbying the ex-president for the United Arab Emirates, according to the United States Department of Justice

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Barrack was chairman of Trump’s 2017 inaugural fund and was charged with two other men in a seven-count indictment in Brooklyn federal court, claiming that they conspired to work as agents for the UAE from April 2016 through April 2018, according to court records. 

“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,” Mark Lesko, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement.

He and the other defendants are accused of being directed by senior officials of the UAE to engage in unlawful efforts to advance the interests of that nation. The Justice Department claims Barrack and the others influenced the foreign policy positions of the Trump 2016 campaign and, later, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government, according to the Department of Justice. 

The other individuals charged with the 74-year old Barrack were Matthew Grimes of Aspen, Colo., and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi (also known as Rashid Al‑Malik), a UAE national, CNBC reported. 

Barrack — a longtime friend of Trump and founder of private equity firm Colony Capital — is also charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements during an interview with federal law enforcement in June 2019, according to the indictment. Grimes worked for Barrack’s investment firm and reported directly to him at the time the alleged crimes occurred, according to the indictment.

Barrack and the two other men are charged with influencing public opinion and the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government, and developing plans to increase the UAE’s political influence and “to promote its foreign policy preferences,” according to the Justice Department.

The indictment alleges examples ranging from UAE officials requesting edits to one of Trump’s speeches to the defendants advocating for appointments to the new administration favored by the UAE.

In an example from 2017, Alshahhi told Barrack to help the UAE secure the appointment of an undisclosed congressman. It further alleges the three tried to influence U.S. foreign policy with respect to the State of Qatar, and that Barrack — under instruction from the UAE — advised Trump on the matter. Barrack had deep business ties in Qatar, according to a Washington Post article from that time.

Before Trump’s presidency, the indictment claims that Barrack and Alshahhi attempted to influence the campaign’s foreign policy positions for the UAE. Alshahhi informed Barrack in 2016 that he would be “the only channel” to Trump for the UAE, according to the indictment.

In May 2016, Barrack allegedly revised a draft speech about U.S. energy policy with Alshahhi and a UAE official’s input. Barrack also promoted the UAE in at least five nationally televised interview appearances and one op-ed, after asking for direction from Alshahhi and UAE officials, according to the indictment.

The three defendants also allegedly drafted a strategy for the UAE to promote its foreign policy interests in the U.S and flew to Morocco to meet with UAE officials to present their plans. They even set up a dedicated cell phone with a secure messaging app to facilitate Barrack’s conversations with UAE officials, according to the indictment.

U.S. law prohibits people other than diplomatic or consular officers from acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general first.

“As alleged, the defendants, using their positions of power and influence in a presidential election year, engaged in a conspiracy to illegally advance and promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates in this country, in flagrant violation of their obligation to notify the Attorney General of their activities and in derogation of the American people’s right to know when a foreign government seeks to influence the policies of our government and our public opinion,” Jacquelin Kasulis, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

Barrack and Trump were friends for three decades, WaPo reported. Barrack was a top fundraiser of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and helped rescue the ex-president’s real estate empire. He also turned down a Cabinet offer during Trump’s presidency.

Barrack stepped down as Colony Capital’s CEO in 2014 to become executive chairman, though he resumed the CEO position in 2018, after the company’s stock sank and the firm lost half its value in a year, Commercial Observer reported. After Los Angeles-based Colony Capital acquired Digital Bridge Holdings for $325 million in 2019, Digital Bridge’s CEO Marc Ganzi replaced Barrack in 2021.

Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Barrack could not immediately be reached for a request for comment.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include more details from the indictment.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.