Tom Barrack Jr., the founder of Colony Capital Inc. and a former top fund-raiser for Donald Trump, was arrested on charges of illegally lobbying for a foreign government, an allegation prosecutors have successfully brought against several other Trump associates.
Barrack, 74, was arrested by federal agents on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Two other men were also charged in the alleged scheme, in an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
The three engaged in unlawful efforts to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates in the U.S. at the direction of senior UAE officials, seeking to influence the foreign policy positions of the 2016 Trump campaign and then those of the new administration, according to prosecutors. Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements in a 2019 interview with U.S. law enforcement agents.
Matthew Herrington, Barrack’s lawyer, said his client is innocent
“Tom Barrack made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” Herrington said in a statement. “He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty today.”
Prosecutors asked a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles to keep Barrack, who is of Lebanese descent, in federal custody until he can be transported to Brooklyn to face the charges. They called him “an extremely wealthy and powerful individual with substantial ties to Lebanon, the UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” who poses a risk of fleeing based on the seriousness of the charges and what they called “the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.” They said he has access to a private aircraft and “deep and longstanding ties to countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States.”
At an initial court appearance in Los Angeles, Barrack appeared on a fuzzy video link in a blue suit jacket, slightly slumped over and not looking into the camera for much of the session. The judge ordered him detained locally until a bail hearing on Monday.
There was no immediate reply to a request for comment on the indictment from the UAE Embassy in Washington on Tuesday, an Emirati holiday. A representative of DigitalBridge Group Inc., formerly Colony Capital, declined to comment.
A ‘betrayal’ of Trump
Prosecutors said Barrack’s alleged crimes constituted a betrayal of Trump.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access” to Trump and senior campaign and government officials and news media “to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” according to a Justice Department statement. “The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President.”
The U.S. said it is “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.”
Barrack, who served as chairman of Trump’s presidential inauguration committee, and the other defendants took numerous steps to help the UAE during the transition to the incoming administration, including providing insights on potential appointments for secretary of state, secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the indictment. Barrack got language praising the United Arab Emirates into an energy speech Trump gave as a candidate in May 2016, made numerous media appearances promoting the Emirates and solicited input from UAE officials for an op-ed about U.S.-Middle East foreign policy, prosecutors said.
Among the government’s specific allegations of influence was help that prosecutors say the UAE sought from the defendants to get the Muslim Brotherhood listed as a foreign terrorist organization. In addition, Barrack and the other defendants “agreed to advocate for the appointment of individuals favored by the United Arab Emirates in the new U.S. government administration,” including a member of Congress the Emirates wanted as ambassador, according to the indictment.
Barrack is hardly the first of Trump’s allies to be charged with violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people in the U.S. who are acting on behalf of a foreign principal to register as such, with penalties ranging from a US$5,000 fine to as many as 5 years in prison, according to the Justice Department. Among those associates are former top fundraiser Elliott Broidy and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, both pardoned by Trump as president. Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is being investigated for breaches of FARA and has denied wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed the seven-count indictment against Barrack, Matthew Grimes, 27, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, also known as Rashid Al Malik, 43. The government described Grimes as a resident of California who worked for Barrack at the time of the alleged crimes and Al Malik as a citizen of the UAE who was also a California resident. All three were charged with acting and conspiring to act as unregistered agents of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018.
Michael Freedman, a lawyer for Grimes, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment on the charges. At the court appearance Tuesday, Freedman asked the judge to release his client on a US$2 million bond secured by property. Like Barrack, Grimes will appear Monday for a bail hearing.
A lawyer for Al Malik couldn’t be identified right away.
Barrack and Trump
Barrack met Trump in the 1980s while working for the billionaire Bass family and famously sold him New York’s Plaza Hotel. At the outset of the campaign, he thought Trump, a gifted showman, was simply trying to conjure up publicity while renegotiating his contract as the reality show host of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Within months Barrack was in deep, advising his friend on everything from foreign policy to cabinet appointments.
With the Trump era behind him, Barrack was going back to his roots. He stepped down as chairman of Colony Capital in March, formed a new venture, Falcon Peak Partners, and had just inked the first in a series of deals he’s pursuing in the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries. He planned to bring in sovereign wealth funds and family offices in the Middle East as co-investors.
In an interview taped last week with Bloomberg TV, Barrack gave no indication that he was aware of impending charges. On the contrary, he talked confidently about the strength of his relationships in the UAE and how he expected the Emiratis to back deals he was pursuing.
“I’ve found that that’s a very fruitful place to invest in as they’re recycling, as they’re going from fossil fuels,” he said in the interview. “You look at places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia. We have all the contention of things that go on that we don’t understand, but they’re all recycling as fast as they can to get to 2030, 2040.”
Five years earlier, in a May 2016 interview with Bloomberg TV, Barrack looked into the region’s future.
“The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and Israel, in my opinion, will align as allies very quickly here, and the world could change for the better,” he said, presaging the alliance that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner would orchestrate between the countries last year.