BROOKLYN (CN) — Jurors will soon decide the fate of a longtime friend of Donald Trump charged with illegally lobbying the former president's campaign and administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
“Mr. Barrack sold the UAE on his political connections,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Harris told the jury during closing arguments on Tuesday in the Eastern District of New York.
During the six-week trial, prosecutors laid out evidence to prove that investor Thomas J. Barrack Jr. acted as a UAE agent without registering with the U.S. attorney general while Trump was a candidate and president-elect, then lied to the FBI while under investigation.
Prosecutors point to a 2016 Trump campaign speech Barrack helped to write, then sent to UAE officials in advance for input. Barrack, who chaired Trump's inaugural committee, says he did that at the direction of campaign chair Paul Manafort.
They also showed the jury an email Barrack forwarded to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, wherein Barrack changed language from an Emirati contact to make it appear, as the government argued, that he was central and vital to building a relationship with UAE officials.
Barrack, 75, said he helped Kushner by putting down “threads” of relationships but did nothing illicit. The grandson of Lebanese immigrant parents, Barrack saw himself as a go-between — helping to find middle ground between the United States and Middle Eastern leaders, particularly while Trump was mounting a so-called Muslim ban as immigration policy.
Trump and Barrack first worked together in 1987 when Trump bought the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Though he never held a Trump administration role, Barrack remained an informal adviser to his longtime friend. Barrack was in talks about an ambassadorship but said he ultimately decided not to go forward.
Trump also offered Barrack the position of secretary of the treasury, Barrack told jurors at his trial. He declined and told Trump that if he took the job, Trump was apt to fire him within 24 hours.
“I knew him too well. And I said it as a compliment. I just knew I would be better as a friend giving him advice when he needed it from the outside,” Barrack testified last month. “He does his best, I felt, when you don’t need anything from him, and that’s where I felt I could be of service.”
It was his close ties to the former president, prosecutors say, that facilitated Barrack sending UAE officials information about Trump’s cabinet nominations and trying to influence Trump's view on the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis, during which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt blockaded Qatar, accusing the country of supporting terrorism and pushing the Muslim Brotherhood to be classified as a terrorist organization.
The blockade became a major focus at trial, thanks in part to testimony from former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the government and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin for the defense. To ease the tensions, Trump wanted to hold a summit at Camp David, Tillerson testified.
Prosecutors said Barrack wanted to put a stop to that plan.
“Mr. Barrack put his thumb on the scale to kill a Camp David summit for the UAE government,” Harris said.
Harris pointed to $374 million in UAE investments put into Colony Capital, Barrack’s investment firm now called Digital Bridge, between 2017 and 2018, “after not receiving a dime from these sovereign wealth funds — not a penny — in the eight years beforehand.”
Barrack’s attorneys say that money constituted less than half a percent of the total funds Colony managed, compared with 5.5% in investments from Qatar — the UAE’s “sworn enemy,” as described by Barrack’s attorney Randall Jackson.