Jury selection began on Sept. 19 for the criminal trial of billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the businessman and longtime Trump ally who the Justice Department charged last year with attempting to influence Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions to benefit the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Barrack is facing charges for acting as unregistered agents of foreign governments. The Justice Department (DOJ), alleging that he inappropriately used Trump’s closeness to help advance UAE interests at the request of Emirati senior officials over two years. The outcome of Barrack’s trial could shed light on how foreign nations sought to cement influence within the Trump Administration, as well as how President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is ramping up its prosecution of undisclosed foreign lobbying. Barrack pleaded guilty but denied wrongdoing.
Trump is facing increasing legal problems as a result of his criminal prosecution of a close Trump associate. The investigation includes allegations of him being involved in the 2021 Capitol riots, illegally removing classified materials from the White House and probing whether he misled creditors and inflated the assets of his assets. Trump denied wrongdoing.
Here’s what to know about the trial of Tom Barrack.
Tom Barrack: Who are you?
Barrack is 75 and a well-known businessman. He made his fortune investing in real estate. He founded the private equity real estate firm Colony Capital—which has since rebranded to DigitalBridge—in 1991. According to ForbesToday, Barrack manages assets worth $34 billion, which includes $16 billion of commercial real property and funds that are distressed-focused on debt. Forbes reported that Barrack had a value of at least $1 billion as of 2013.
Barrack is also a longtime friend of Trump’s and a powerful fundraiser. His Rebuilding America Now Super PAC raised $23 million for Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, according to the Center for Public Integrity, and Barrack served as chairman of the committee overseeing Trump’s 2017 Presidential inauguration and reportedly also served as an informal advisor to the campaign.
The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, Barrack’s work has often centered around the Middle East. The Washington Post reports that he did significant business with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. PostPaul Manafort was a Republican longstanding operative who he met while working in Beirut. Barrack is believed to have convinced Trump that Manafort was the right person for him in 2016, decades after he ran for president. (Manafort was later convicted of tax and bank fraud in a 2018 trial in Virginia, and pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to his political consulting work in Ukraine as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office the same year.)
2018 was a great year for New York. Times reported that Barrack not only “opened communications” between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Emiratis and the Saudis, but also held a “unique place in the Trump world,” as evidenced by Trump’s evolution from a candidate who campaigned on a Muslim ban to a close ally of both nations.
What is the reason Tom Barrack is on trial?
In July 2021, DOJ unsealed a seven-count indictment alleging that Barrack—along with his assistant Matthew Grimes and UAE official Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, also known as Rashid Al Malik—acted and conspired to act as agents of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018. Indictment stated that Barrack had made false statements to law enforcement during his June 2019 interview and was charged with obstruction of justice. Barrack was arrested briefly in July 2021. He was released on a $250million bond while awaiting trial. Times.
Grimes, Barrack and Grimes pleaded not guilty for all wrongdoing. Barrack will be charged with being an unregistered foreign agent, obstruction, lying to federal authorities, and lying. He’s being tried with Grimes, who also faces charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
Grimes’ lawyer did not respond to TIME’s request for comment. CNN reports Al Malik fled to America in April 2018 three days after speaking at the FBI. He has never been seen since.
As TIME reported last year, it is not unlawful for Americans to lobby for foreign governments—but they must register to work as a foreign agent in order to do so. DOJ alleges that Barrack, Al Malik, and Grimes used Barrack’s close relationship with Trump during both his first campaign and his presidency to advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE, and failed to notify the Attorney General that their actions were allegedly at the direction of senior UAE officials. This work allegedly included Barrack inserting pro-UAE language into a Trump campaign speech in May 2016, as well as receiving talking points from senior UAE officials for Barrack’s national press appearances. DOJ alleges that Barrack emailed Al Malik after one press appearance in 2016 that he “nailed it… for the home team,” seemingly referring to the UAE.
DOJ alleges that Al Malik, Grimes and Barrack agreed that a nominee for United States ambassador to the UAE would be promoted. Al Malik and Barrack also discussed in 2017 UAE opposition to Camp David summit, which was being held to settle a dispute that existed between Qatar and UAE. Emirati officials didn’t want this to happen. It never took place.
Monday’s jury selection comes after weeks of back and forth between Barrack’s lawyers and DOJ over what candidates could be allowed to serve on the jury. Bloomberg reported that Barracks and Grimes wanted more than 30 jurors to be exempted from the trial. On September 2, Judge Brian Cogan said that jurors who had “merely some dislike” of Trump could be allowed to be considered for the jury. Expect the trial to last until October.
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