WASHINGTON — Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of former President Donald J. Trump and one of his top 2016 campaign fund-raisers, was indicted on Tuesday morning on federal charges of violating a federal law requiring lobbyists for foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department.
Federal prosecutors and the F.B.I. have been investigating Mr. Barrack for nearly three years, focusing on whether he tried to sway Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or his administration on behalf of Persian Gulf nations with huge stakes in United States policy.
The inquiry was overseen by prosecutors in the public integrity section of United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York. In an interview two years ago, a spokesman for Mr. Barrack said he had acted as an independent intermediary between Persian Gulf leaders and the Trump campaign and administration, not on behalf of foreign officials or entities.
The indictment charged Mr. Barrack and two other men with failing to register as agents of the United Arab Emirates government. The other two men charged were Matthew Grimes, a former top executive at Mr. Barrack’s company, and Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, an Emirati businessman who is close to the U.A.E. rulers.
The seven count indictment also accused Mr. Barrack of obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal agents.
The charges were announced by the United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, the Justice Department’s national security division, and the F.B.I.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected president, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Mr. Barrack’s real estate and private equity firm, Colony Capital, benefited from substantial investments from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. In the three years after Mr. Trump became the Republican Party’s nominee for president in July 2016, Colony Capital received about $1.5 billion from those two Persian Gulf counties through investments or other transactions. Of that, about $474 million came from sovereign wealth funds controlled by their governments.
Mr. Barrack stepped down as the firm’s executive chairman in March. The firm was recently renamed DigitalBridge. According to a filing this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Barrack owns ten percent of the firm and is one of its directors.
Mr. Barrack, 74, has been friends with Mr. Trump since the 1980s. He helped raise money for Mr. Trump’s first presidential campaign and ran his transition team after Mr. Trump won. But he was perhaps best known for leading Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised $107 million — the most money ever collected and spent to celebrate an inauguration.
Critics claimed the committee became a hub for peddling access to foreign officials or business leaders, or those acting on their behalf, but investigations by several local jurisdictions into the committee’s activities petered out with no charges filed.
The federal inquiry into Mr. Barrack’s ties with foreign leaders, reported by The New York Times in July 2019, was an outgrowth of the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The special counsel’s work put a spotlight on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA, and led a greater effort by the Justice Department to enforce it. The law requires those who work for foreign governments, political parties or other entities to influence American policy or public opinion to disclose their activities to the department.
Several former Trump aides who were charged by the special counsel acknowledged violating the statute in guilty pleas, including Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman and Rick Gates, the deputy chairman. Mr. Mueller referred questions about Mr. Barrack to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, apparently because the allegations went beyond his investigative mandate.
In one episode reported by The Times, Mr. Barrack tried to coordinate what Mr. Trump would say in a May 2016 campaign speech about energy policy with his contacts in the Persian Gulf, including Mr. al-Malik Alshahhi, the Emirati businessman.
In an apparent reference to Mr. Barrack’s Persian Gulf contacts, Mr. Manafort asked him in an email about the speech: “Are you running this by our friends?”
Sharon LaFraniere reported from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum from New York. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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