The trial of Thomas J. Barrack Jr., an informal adviser to former President Donald J. Trump accused of acting as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates, could shed light on how foreign governments jockeyed for access to the Trump administration — efforts that may have created lucrative opportunities for businessmen close to the White House.
Jury selection for the trial, which is expected to last into October, begins Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors have accused Mr. Barrack — a Los Angeles-based private-equity investor — of using his sway with Mr. Trump to advance the interests of the Emiratis and of serving as a secret back channel for communications without disclosing his efforts to the attorney general, as the government contends he should have.
While Mr. Barrack served the Emirati government, prosecutors say, he was also seeking money from the rulers for investment funds, including one that would support projects to boost Mr. Trump’s agenda and benefit from his policies.
In 2019, prosecutors say, Mr. Barrack repeatedly lied to the F.B.I. about his activities.
Mr. Barrack has denied wrongdoing. In court filings, his lawyers have suggested that prosecutors delayed charging him until Mr. Trump left office and said the charges were not supported by facts. A spokesman for Mr. Barrack declined to comment.
In all, Mr. Barrack faces seven counts, including acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and making false statements. He is to be tried alongside his former assistant, Matthew Grimes, who was charged only on the lobbying counts. Both were arrested in July 2021; prosecutors filed a second indictment in the case in May with additional details about Mr. Barrack’s efforts.
Lawyers for Mr. Grimes did not respond to a request for comment. In a February motion to dismiss the indictment, they said there was no allegation that he ever agreed to be an agent for the U.A.E.
A third defendant, Rashid al-Malik, an Emirati businessman who left the United States in 2018 after federal agents interviewed him, remains at large, prosecutors said.
Foreign governments have long sought favored status with U.S. presidential administrations. Wealthier nations, including the U.A.E., have tried to influence American politics and society through large donations to universities and think tanks, and through hiring armies of lobbyists to steer bills in Congress.
But during the Trump administration, some Persian Gulf nations intensified efforts to gain access to the president and his top aides, many of whom had little foreign policy experience and were viewed as particularly susceptible to influence.
According to the indictment, in May 2016, Mr. Barrack agreed to serve as a back channel between the Emiratis and the Trump campaign. Soon after, Mr. Barrack sent Mr. al-Malik a copy of a speech that he said he had personally drafted for Mr. Trump, in which he praised Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Emirati ruler who was at the time the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
“They loved it so much! This is great,” Mr. al-Malik responded, according to the indictment, which quotes extensively from email and text messages.
As the speech went through revisions, Mr. Barrack worked with campaign officials to ensure the remarks kept a positive reference to Persian Gulf allies, according to the indictment. After the speech, a senior Emirati official emailed Mr. Barrack to say “everybody here are very happy with the results.”
During the Republican Party convention, Mr. Barrack worked with the Trump campaign to tailor parts of the platform with Emirati input, prosecutors said. He also praised the U.A.E. on television, according to the indictment; Mr. al-Malik pushed for the publicity and sent Mr. Barrack and Mr. Grimes talking points from a senior Emirati official.
After Mr. Trump’s election, prosecutors said, Mr. Barrack communicated with senior Emirati officials about Mr. Trump’s transition and likely candidates for top posts. In December 2016, Mr. al-Malik gave Mr. Barrack a “wish list” of foreign policy moves, prosecutors said.
Mr. al-Malik also encouraged Mr. Grimes to push the Trump administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, a longtime goal of the Emiratis. “Yes,” Mr. Grimes responded. “At your direction.” Weeks later, Mr. Grimes sent Mr. al-Malik a news article suggesting that the move was being considered.
Mr. Barrack has contended in court filings that his contacts with Gulf leaders were no secret. His communications, his lawyers wrote this year, would show that “his activities were undertaken with the knowledge of the Trump campaign and administration.”
His lawyers have also noted that Mr. Barrack, while seeking an official position with the Trump administration, submitted extensive information to the government about overseas contacts. And, starting in late 2017, he voluntarily met with investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, during the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The inquiry by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn into Mr. Barrack’s ties with foreign leaders sprang from Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
In 2019, Mr. Barrack learned he was being investigated by the F.B.I., although he has said he was not told he was the target, and arranged through his lawyers to meet agents. During that interview, prosecutors say, Mr. Barrack made false statements about his contacts with Mr. al-Malik and his role arranging contacts between the Trump administration and the U.A.E.
In court papers, prosecutors have argued that Mr. Barrack stood to profit from his dealings, in part by soliciting U.A.E. money for his business ventures. According to the indictment, Mr. Barrack planned to pitch a proposed investment fund at a meeting with Sheikh bin Zayed, the Emirati ruler.
There is no evidence that the proposed venture materialized or that Mr. Barrack met with the crown prince. But the indictment noted that in the following months, Emirati sovereign wealth funds invested a total of $374 million in two deals sponsored by the giant real estate company Mr. Barrack led, now known as DigitalBridge Group and formerly known as Colony Capital.
Mr. Barrack is one of several associates of Mr. Trump to come under scrutiny for connections with foreign interests, in particular for lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of governments and other entities.
In October 2020, Elliott Broidy, a former top fund-raiser, pleaded guilty to conspiring to influence the administration for Chinese and Malaysian interests. Mr. Broidy was pardoned by Mr. Trump in his final days in office.
Michael T. Flynn, who briefly was Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, admitted in 2017 to working as a foreign agent for a Turkish businessman. The admission was part of a plea deal — Mr. Flynn was never charged in connection with Turkey — and in November 2020 Mr. Trump also pardoned him.
Some dealings raised questions about ethics, not legality. After leaving the White House, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, secured a $2 billion investment from a Saudi Arabia investment fund, which some critics said created the appearance that Mr. Kushner was receiving payback for favorable White House actions.
After Mr. Trump left office, his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, solicited funds for his own private equity fund, ultimately getting $1 billion from the Saudis and $500 million more from the Emiratis.
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