Former President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Tom Barrack continued to defend himself against charges of illegal lobbying at his trial Tuesday, telling jurors that he briefed then-candidate Trump on his interactions with officials in the United Arab Emirates when he tried to help Trump with a better understanding of Middle East issues. .
Barrack, a California billionaire real estate investor, testified for a second day in his own defense against charges that he acted as a foreign agent by illegally lobbying the Trump campaign and subsequent administration on behalf of the UAE.
Barrack’s defense attorney questioned Barrack about a meeting he had with a UAE official in the spring of 2016 in which prosecutors have alleged he agreed to become a foreign agent on behalf of the UAE. Emails later showed that Barrack told Trump officials, including Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, about the meeting.
“If the purpose of your meeting with [Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan] was to agree with him to secretly influence the Trump campaign, you would have told [Paul Manafort] or Jared Kushner [about the meeting]?” Barrack’s attorney, Michael Schachter, asked Barrack.
“Probably not,” Barrack replied.
Barrack said during his earlier testimony on Monday that he was not asked during the meeting to act as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates – and that any such arrangement would have been “impossible” in his business dealings because it would “chill” his other investors.
Prosecutors have said Barrack used his position as chairman of Trump’s inaugural fund in 2016 to influence US foreign policy while Trump was a candidate and in the early days of the administration. As the bulk of their case, prosecutors previously showed hundreds of Barrack’s emails and text messages that showed Barrack and his aide, Matthew Grimes, arranging meetings with senior UAE officials to discuss policy initiatives over the course of several months.
Grimes, who is charged with Barrack, has also pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Barrack, whose family is from Lebanon, testified on Tuesday that his interactions with UAE officials were well-known and he did not believe there would have been any restrictions on his ability to discuss the campaign’s positions with UAE officials.
“I thought it was actually a great thing,” Barrack said. “The idea of having someone who had knowledge in both confused arenas who could create some net of understanding and tolerance is what I know we all needed.”
“I was so enlightened,” he said. “I was so excited that I might be a little prod in that process.”
He laughed when asked by his lawyer about the government’s claim that he was working to “manipulate the public” and “spread UAE propaganda”.
“Not at all,” said Barrack.
Instead, Barrack told the jury that Middle East issues are “part of my life.”
“Confusion and those kinds of problems are rampant. In business, the biggest problem we have is understanding each other, communicating with each other,” Barrack said. “I happen to have an emotional connection to this because I’ve seen what happened firsthand.”
In a further attempt to show that his UAE communications were no secret, Barrack testified that he tried to bring then-campaign manager Paul Manafort to another meeting with the same UAE official, but that Trump said it was a “terrible idea” because “things in the campaign were hot and heavy” and he wanted Manafort to stay put.
“[Manafort] was also in a food fight in the campaign at the time with Cory Lewandowski over territorial claims,” Barrack told the jury. “He decided that if he left his desk, it might not be there when he came back.”
Manafort did not participate in the trip, Barrack said, but Trump endorsed Barrack’s efforts.
“I talked to President Trump about it and he said, ‘You’re doing the right thing,'” Barrack testified.
But Barrack, whose business ties to the UAE stretch back decades, told the jury he was ultimately left “begging” in his efforts to broker meetings between Trump and UAE officials because of Trump’s so-called ” Muslim ban” proposal and because “they just didn’t take him seriously.”
In an email shown during the trial, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said he refused to meet with Trump.
“Greetings from sunny Abu Dahbi, where the confusion about your friend Donald Trump is VERY great,” Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba wrote to Barrack. “Confusion because nobody seems to know him and obviously because of his statements – especially the Muslim ban.”
“He is the king of excess,” Barrack wrote back. “He’s not anti-Islam or anti-racist … we can turn him to prudence, he needs a few really smart Arab minds.”
Barrack is scheduled to return to the witness stand Wednesday, his defense attorney said in court.