Tom Barrack: Trump ally on trial for ‘light espionage’ and obstruction

Tom Barrack, a wealthy businessman who served as chairman of Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee and as an adviser to his campaign, was indicted last year along with his aide Matthew Grimes and an Emirati official for acting as a secret conduit to the Gulf nation.

Barrack and Grimes allegedly conspired to take advantage of their close relationship with Trump by promoting the UAE’s interests through media interviews, favoring the UAE’s preferred candidate to serve as the country’s ambassador, and assisting UAE officials in their dealings with the White House. and pushing back against the proposed Camp David summit to resolve the dispute between Qatar and the Gulf states. The summit never happened.

Barrack and Grimes have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

The Emirati, Rashid Al Malik, fled the US in April 2018, three days after being interviewed by the FBI. He remains free.

The trial is expected to call into question the US government’s use of the foreign agent statute and comes as the Justice Department ramps up its prosecution of undisclosed foreign lobbying and related activities.

Barrack and Grimes were charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of acting as a foreign agent without notifying the Justice Department under section 951 of the criminal code, which national security officials have called “light espionage.” They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Barrack was also charged with obstructing a grand jury investigation and making false statements during an interview with the FBI in June 2019. The obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Lawyers for Barrack and Grimes have argued that prosecutors are trying to criminalize free speech and charged the men with a statute normally reserved for spies.

“Mr. Barrack was never an agent of the UAE, did not obstruct or make false statements. There is absolutely no basis for the allegations against Mr. Barrack,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing.

In the case of foreign agents, prosecutors may decide whether Barrack and Grimes had an “agreement” to act under the “direction or control” of UAE officials.

Lawyers for Barrack and Grimes, who was 22 at the time, said their clients had never had an agreement to work for the UAE.

“Although Section 951 has existed in some form for over a century, it has never been used against a person in Mr. Grimes’ position. Never. There is good reason for that. The statute, which targets spies and other criminal activity, does not apply to Mr. Grimes’ alleged conduct. ” his lawyers wrote.

Former White House officials may testify

The two unidentified former White House officials may be called as witnesses by the prosecution or defense teams, according to a court filing.

The prosecution’s case is expected to be based on numerous text messages and emails between the three men between 2016 and 2018. The trial is expected to last four weeks.

The testimony and evidence will resurrect names in Trump’s orbit, including campaign advisers Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon, former White House adviser Jared Kushner and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to court filings.

The trial comes as Trump is back in the spotlight, announcing his 2024 presidential bid and facing multiple criminal investigations. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

“Nailed for the home team…”

According to the indictment, the alleged foreign agent scheme ran from April 2016, during the presidential campaign, to April 2018, Trump’s first year in office.

Prosecutors allege that in 2016 Barrack and Grimes received word from UAE officials for Barrack’s television appearances in which he promoted UAE interests.

After one appearance, Barrack emailed Al Malik: “I nailed it for the home team…” referring not to the United States but to the UAE, according to the indictments.

In another case, prosecutors said in April 2017, Barrack told Al Malik that Barrack himself was being considered by Trump to become US ambassador or special envoy to the Middle East. Barrack’s appointment to both positions would “give more power to ABU DHABI!” Al Malik told him.

“This will be great for us,” Al Malik replied. “And deliver more. A very efficient operation.” Barrack replied, “And great for you!” Barrack was never nominated for either position.

At the same time, prosecutors allege, Barrack obtained $374 million for his California investment firm from two sovereign wealth funds in Abu Dhabi. An investment follower credited the bulk of the investment to “Barrack Magic,” according to the indictment.