WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has accused Thomas Barrack, a longtime friend of former President Donald Trump and his 2017 inaugural committee chairman, of engaging in a wide-ranging scheme to favorably influence U.S. policy toward the United Arab Emirates without registering as a foreign agent as required by U.S. law.
A seven-count indictment was handed down Tuesday against Barrack, 74, and two other associates, one American and the other a UAE national.
Prosecutors allege that Barrack, who has known Trump since the 1980s, sought to influence him starting in April 2016, when Trump was campaigning for president, and extending through April 2018, during the first year-plus of Trump's four-year term in the White House.
The indictment against Barrack also accuses him of obstructing justice and making numerous false statements to federal law enforcement agents when they interviewed him on June 20, 2019.
After Barrack was arrested Tuesday, his lawyer told U.S. news outlets that Barrack "has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty."
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement that Barrack and his co-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 (the UAE) without disclosing their true allegiances."
Lesko said their conduct "is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former president. Through this indictment, we are putting everyone — regardless of their wealth or perceived political power — on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence."
Prosecutors allege that Barrack was an informal adviser to Trump during his 2016 campaign, chaired his inaugural committee and then "informally advised senior U.S. government officials on issues related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East."
Barrack at the time was executive chairman of a global investment management firm headquartered in Los Angeles, while one of his co-defendants, Matthew Grimes, 27, reported directly to Barrack at the investment company. The third defendant was identified as Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, a UAE national who worked as a UAE agent.
Prosecutors allege that Barrack and the others took several actions to advance UAE interests without registering with the U.S. government as foreign agents.
They accuse Barrack in May 2016 of inserting language praising the UAE into a Trump campaign speech about U.S. energy policy. The prosecutors say that Barrack, either directly or through Grimes or Alshahhi, was repeatedly in contact with senior UAE leaders.
The Justice Department alleges in a statement that Barrack and the others "sought and received direction and feedback, including talking points, from senior UAE officials in connection with national press appearances Barrack used to promote the interests of the UAE."
After one such public statement, Barrack emailed Alshahhi, saying, "I nailed it. . . for the home team," referring to the UAE.
On another occasion, according to the government, Barrack and Grimes sought advice from senior UAE officials before Barrack wrote an opinion piece for a national magazine in October 2016 and "removed certain language at the direction of senior UAE officials, as relayed by Alshahhi."
The government says that after Trump won the 2016 election, Barrack in December asked the UAE for a "wish list" of its short-term and longer-range goals it wanted from the incoming Trump administration.
Prosecutors accuse Barrack, shortly after Trump took office, with providing Alshahhi with non-public information about the reaction of U.S. government officials after they held a White House meeting with senior UAE officials.
The indictment alleges that in September 2017, Alshahhi told Barrack that the UAE was against a proposed summit in the U.S. concerning an ongoing dispute between Qatar, the UAE and other Middle Eastern governments. The Justice Department alleges that Barrack "sought to advise" Trump about the UAE stance and the summit never occurred.
Throughout his representation of the UAE, prosecutors said Barrack used a dedicated cellphone and installed a secure messaging application so he could converse with top UAE officials.
During Barrack's 2019 interview with FBI agents, the government alleged that he lied repeatedly, including denying that Alshahhi had ever requested that he take any actions advancing UAE interests.