Thomas Barrack, Trump Fund-Raiser, Is Indicted on Lobbying Charge

Mr. Barrack, who served as chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, was accused in the Eastern District of New York of failing to register as a lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates.,


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WASHINGTON — Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of former President Donald J. Trump and one of his top 2016 campaign fund-raisers, was arrested in California on Tuesday morning on federal charges of failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, obstruction of justice and false statements to investigators.

A seven-count indictment accused Mr. Barrack, 74, of using his access to Mr. Trump to advance the foreign policy goals of the United Arab Emirates and then lying about his activities during a June 2019 interview with federal agents.

Federal prosecutors said that Mr. Barrack used his position as an outside adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign to publicly promote the U.A.E.’s agenda while soliciting direction, feedback and talking points from senior U.A.E. officials.

After Mr. Trump was elected, the indictment said, Mr. Barrack continued to try to influence the administration policies in favor of the U.A.E. At one point, he told senior U.A.E. officials to give him a “wish list” of foreign policy moves they wanted Washington to take within the first 100 days, first six months, first year and by the end of Mr. Trump’s term, prosecutors said.

Matthew Grimes, a former top executive at Mr. Barrack’s company, and Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, an Emirati businessman who is close to the U.A.E. rulers, were also charged with acting as agents of the U.A.E. without registering with the Justice Department, as required.

Department officials said that the three men conspired to abuse Mr. Barrack’s access to Mr. Trump, his campaign and his administration from early 2016 to early 2018. Mr. Trump, they said, was one of those who were betrayed by Mr. Barrack’s hidden allegiance to a foreign government.

Federal prosecutors and the F.B.I. have been investigating Mr. Barrack for nearly three years.

The inquiry was overseen by prosecutors in the public integrity section of United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. The charges were announced by that office, the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the F.B.I.

Lawyers for the three men could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Barrack said: “Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

Mr. Barrack’s real estate and private equity firm, Colony Capital, benefited from substantial investments from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., countries that are closely aligned. In the three years after Mr. Trump became the Republican Party’s nominee for president in July 2016, Colony Capital received about $1.5 billion from those two Persian Gulf countries through investments or other transactions. Of that, about $474 million came from sovereign wealth funds controlled by their governments.

Mr. Barrack stepped down as the firm’s executive chairman in March. The firm was recently renamed DigitalBridge. According to a filing this month with Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Barrack owns 10 percent of the firm and is one of its directors.

Mr. Barrack has been friends with Mr. Trump since the 1980s. He helped raise money for Mr. Trump’s first presidential campaign and ran his transition team after Mr. Trump won. But he was perhaps best known for leading Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised $107 million — the most money ever collected and spent to celebrate an inauguration.

Critics claimed the committee became a hub for peddling access to foreign officials or business leaders, or those acting on their behalf, but investigations by several local jurisdictions into the committee’s activities petered out with no charges filed.

The federal inquiry into Mr. Barrack’s ties with foreign leaders, reported by The New York Times in July 2019, was an outgrowth of the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The special counsel’s work put a spotlight on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA, and led a greater effort by the Justice Department to enforce it. The law requires those who work for foreign governments, political parties or other entities to influence American policy or public opinion to disclose their activities to the department.

Several former Trump aides who were charged by the special counsel acknowledged violating the statute in guilty pleas, including Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, the deputy chairman. Mr. Mueller referred Mr. Barrack’s case to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, apparently because the allegations went beyond his investigative mandate.

In one incident reported by The Times and recounted in the indictment, Mr. Barrack drafted a proposed insert for a May 2016 campaign speech that Mr. Trump gave on energy policy. Mr. Barrack sent an advance draft of the speech to the Emirati businessman — referred to in court papers as Mr. al-Malik — to show to U.A.E. officials, the indictment said.

After one media appearance, Mr. Barrack emailed Mr. al-Malik, boasting that he had “nailed it” for the “home team,” referring to the U.A.E., the indictment said. Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Barrack had installed a secure messaging application on a dedicated cellphone to keep such communications private.

At one point, prosecutors claim, Mr. Barrack lobbied administration officials not to call a Camp David meeting to resolve tensions between Qatar and the U.A.E. and its ally, Saudi Arabia. He also arranged meetings and phone calls between campaign and administration officials and U.A.E. leaders, they alleged in court papers.

Mr. Barrack called Mr. al-Malik the U.A.E.’s “secret weapon” to advance its foreign policy agenda, the indictment said. But in his July 2019 interview with the F.B.I., the indictment stated, Mr. Barrack claimed that Mr. al-Malik had never asked him to promote the U.A.E.’s interests.

Like Mr. Barrack, Mr. Grimes was arrested on Tuesday. Mr. al-Malik remains “at large,” the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors asked that Mr. Barrack be transferred to New York and remain in custody, arguing that he might flee the country. In a court document, they described him as “an extremely wealthy and powerful individual” with a private aircraft and deep ties to the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Sharon LaFraniere reported from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum from New York. Maggie Haberman contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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