Trump ally Tom Barrack acquitted of foreign agent charges
NEW YORK (AP) – The chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, was acquitted of all charges Friday in federal trial in which he was accused of using his personal access to the former president to secretly promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates.
A jury in Brooklyn deliberated for three days before finding Barrack not guilty of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Barak vehemently denied the allegations.
Barrack, a 75-year-old California billionaire, is an old friend of Trump’s and chaired the Republican inaugural committee. He was among a long line of Trump associates who faced various criminal charges.
The verdict sparked a tearful celebration among Barack and his supporters, who took group photos in the courtroom. Outside court, Barak said, “God bless America,” and said he intended to grab a drink and go see the Statue of Liberty.
He told reporters that he was grateful that the jury understood “such complex and compelling facts before them. … I am proud to be an American.”
One of Barrack’s aides, Matthew Grimes, was also acquitted.
Trump responded to the acquittal in a statement, calling it “great news for our country, freedom and democracy.” He said Barack “should never have been charged or tried” and praised the jury “for their courage and understanding in reaching the absolutely correct decision”.
In closing arguments this week, defense attorney Randall Jackson said Barak had made no attempt to hide his relationship with Rashid al Malik, a UAE businessman who acted as a conduit for the rulers of the oil-rich Persian Gulf state.
Al Malik was someone in a network of business connections he cultivated throughout the Middle East, Jackson said. He also said it “makes no sense” that his client would try to infiltrate the Trump campaign on behalf of the UAE at a time when Trump’s chances of winning the presidency were considered strong.
“He participated in the campaign because he is loyal to his friends – maybe to a fault,” the lawyer said.
Testifying on his own behalf, Barack revealed that “dozens” of people had asked him for help in getting a pardon from the former president. He also said he never sought clemency for himself, even after learning he was under investigation.
Asked why, he replied: “I have never done anything wrong.
Barack, a speaker of Arab Lebanese descent, also described efforts to arrange for Trump to meet with UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other officials from more moderate governments in a selfless effort to persuade Trump to tone down his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“I was trying to find common ground, to get him to step back from what he didn’t believe in,” he said.
Barrack’s acquittal was the latest setback for the Justice Department, which has stepped up enforcement of foreign lobbying laws in recent years.
Last month, the judge dismissed the suit which sought to force casino magnate Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent because of his alleged lobbying at the behest of the Chinese government during the Trump administration.
2019 Attorney Greg Craig, Democrat, was acquitted making a false statement to the Ministry of Justice about working for the Ukrainian government.
Federal prosecutor Ryan Harris told jurors that Barak planned to become the “eyes, ears and voice” of the Emirates as part of a criminal conspiracy to manipulate Trump’s foreign policy. He used his background connections to get the UAE to funnel tens of millions of dollars into an office building he was building and into one of his investment funds, Harris said.
Harris, the assistant US attorney, pointed to what he characterized as a series of suspicious texts and other communications that showed Barack was under the direction and control of Al Malik.
Barak “marketed himself as politically connected. Someone who could open the door to the UAE. Someone who could offer access to Donald Trump. … He was supposed to be their inside man,” Harris said.
Al Malik asked Barrack “to do things for the UAE again and again,” he said.
Defense invited the former Minister of Finance Steven Mnuchin to testify there was nothing suspicious about his interaction with Barrack over Trump’s stance on UAE relations. Mnuchin described Barrack as a friend who was among hundreds of business people who offered him “thoughts and advice” while serving in the Cabinet. In those discussions, “I would never share anything … that I thought was confidential,” he testified.
Before he was indicted, Barack gained attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inauguration celebration after the 2016 election. The event was scrutinized both for lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businessmen looking to lobby the new administration.
Leaving the courtroom on Friday, Barack reiterated his claim to be non-partisan.
“The hardest job in the world is being president of the United States,” he said. “No matter what party it is, Republican or Democrat. President Biden is doing the best he can. President Trump has done the best job he can.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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