Tom Barrack in testimony denies illegal lobbying, says support for Trump was ‘disastrous’

Former President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Tom Barrack on Monday denied accusations that he illegally lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, saying support for Trump for president was “disastrous” for him professionally.

Barrack, who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee in 2016, took the stand in his own defense at his trial on charges that he served as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates from 2016 to 2018, yet failed to register with the Justice Department, which they say constitute a crime.

From the witness stand, Barrack said his interactions with UAE officials were part of the long-standing business relationships he had cultivated over decades while serving as head of a multibillion-dollar real estate company that sought investment from around the world.

“Could you, as you understand your business, agree to act as an agent for one investor?” Barrack’s lawyer, Michael Schachter, asked him.

“Impossible,” replied Barrack, who said that type of relationship would “cold out” other investors who would think, “If you’re trading for them, you’re not trading for us.”

Barrack also offered criticism of the former president, whose administration he is accused of illegal lobbying, telling the jury it would have been “undoubtedly” better if he had thrown his support behind another candidate.

Barrack already had a decades-long relationship with Trump before he began advising Trump early in his 2016 campaign.

Tom Barrack in testimony denies illegal lobbying, says support for Trump was ‘disastrous’

Tom Barrack leaves Brooklyn Federal Court on October 21, 2022 in New York.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

He told the jury that he initially thought the idea of ​​Trump as president was a “far-fetched thought” but that he “knew he was bold, smart, instinctively brilliant and more resilient than anyone I’ve ever known” – and that Barrack saw opportunities in the Middle East.

“This incredibly good businessman became president of the United States who couldn’t spell Middle East,” Barrack said.

But Barrack said his support for Trump was ultimately “catastrophic” for his work, and appeared to at least partially blame his association with the former president for the charges he now faces.

“Ultimately what effect did your assistance to the Trump campaign have on you professionally?” asked Schachter.

“I’m sitting with all of you today,” Barrack replied, drawing an objection from the prosecutor.

Barrack’s comments came a day after Trump expressed his support for his longtime friend on social media.

The DOJ has “accused him of being an agent of the UAE, which I don’t think he was,” Trump said of Barrack Sunday on his Truth Social platform.

Trump called him a “highly respected businessman” and said Barrack “NEVER talked to me about ‘speeches’ and what to say on this subject” — a likely reference to prosecutors’ allegation that Barrack inserted language favorable to UAE in one of Trump’s early campaign speeches on energy.

At the trial, prosecutors showed emails between Barrack and then-Trump aide Paul Manafort discussing the speech. They also showed a clip of Trump giving the speech, which included a reference to “our Gulf allies”.

Prosecutors previously presented hundreds of communications Barrack had with his UAE contacts.

“I have had the privilege of dealing with so many [world leaders]Barrack said as he ticked off nearly a dozen countries around the world where he’s traveled on business. “All the best people in those places at one time or another I’ve had the privilege of dealing with.”

In his testimony, Barrack also offered a fierce defense of his co-defendant Matthew Grimes, who had come to work for Barrack in what Barrack called the “ultimate gopher job” right out of college.

Grimes has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

“One of the worst feelings of my life is that he’s sitting in this court today — it’s ridiculous,” Barrack said, overruled by the prosecution.

Barrack, whose family is from Lebanon, testified that his ties to the United Arab Emirates date back to when he first worked there in the 1970s, and said the nearly $400 million invested in his company from two UAE sovereign wealth funds during that period were also business and not personal.

“They’re investing, they’re not giving us the capital,” Barrack said. “They invest.”

Barrack also rejected one of the prosecution’s central claims: that Barrack’s decision to act on behalf of the UAE stemmed from a spring 2016 meeting with a UAE official.

“Did he ask you if you wanted to be a foreign agent from the UAE?” Schachter asked the official.

“No,” Barrack replied.

“Did he ask you if you would agree to operate under the direction or control of the UAE?” Schachter continued.

“Absolutely not,” Barrack said.

Barrack remained on the stand for nearly five hours, offering detailed answers to questions from his attorney and occasionally cracking jokes.

Attorneys said in court they expect Barrack to remain on the stand until Thursday.

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