BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — A former billionaire who chaired the inaugural committee of former President Donald Trump, his longtime friend, was acquitted Friday of acting as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates.
Thomas J. Barrack Jr., 75, stood trial for more than six weeks in Brooklyn federal court, charged with working on behalf of the UAE to influence Trump’s campaign and administration, and lying to the FBI while under investigation.
“God bless America. The system works,” Barrack celebrated Friday outside the Eastern District of New York courthouse. “Against all odds, these 12 people, normal people, with such complex and believable facts in front of them, somehow fight through all of the quagmire to find Lady Justice.”
Barrack told reporters he was on his way to see the Statue of Liberty but, asked about his immediate plans he said, “I’m gonna go have a drink.”
The Santa Monica, California-based Barrack had faced nine counts in a trial replete with hundreds of emails and text messages, many involving a vice president at Barrack's investment firm, Matthew Grimes, who rose from the ranks of intern where his job entailed gofer-like duties like fetching smoothies for Barrack and manage luggage during trips. Grimes, 29, was charged the top two counts of the indictment and was also acquitted Friday. Their final co-defendant, Emirati national Rashid Al-Malik, remains at large.
Two Trump administration cabinet members testified at the men's trial: former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the government and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin for the defense.
On the basis of executive privilege, Mnuchin declined to answer several questions, including those about a proposed Camp David summit.
A prosecutor later told the court he believed Mnuchin had leaned on a privilege “that was not his to invoke,” and that the government was “considering the legal framework and how that plays.” No submissions on the issue have been filed to date.
Barrack himself spent five days on the stand rebutting the government’s characterization of his dealings with officials from the UAE and United States.
Prosecutors pointed to a 2016 Trump campaign speech Barrack helped to write, then sent to UAE officials in advance for input. Barrack said he did that at the direction of campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Leading up to the election, Barrack met with Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, national security adviser of the UAE. Prosecutors told jurors that’s where plans were hatched for Barrack to help UAE officials gain influence in the United States; Barrack said they talked business and discussed the so-called Muslim ban that Trump, still a candidate at the time, had pledged to put in place.
The jury also saw 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 says he helped Kushner and others by putting down “threads” of those relationships but did nothing illicit.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan 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, of the New York City-based firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher.