Tom Barrack used his longtime friendship with Donald Trump to "illegally provide" government officials from the United Arab Emirates with access to the then-president and senior administration officials, and he did so for "money and power," prosecutors said Wednesday.
Barrack, a California billionaire, and his former assistant Matthew Grimes "met with and took directions from" the UAE during a two-year period starting in 2016, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hiral Mehta told jurors in Brooklyn federal court.
The pair are standing trial for acting as unregistered foreign agents. “They did so in the corrupt pursuit of money and power,” Mehta alleged in his opening statement at their criminal trial.
Barrack's lawyer, Michael Schachter, said that his client was never under anyone's control, dismissing charges that Barrack was acting as a foreign agent as "nothing short of ridiculous."
"He did things because he wanted to" and not because he was being urged to do so by a foreign government, Schachter said. He "is an innocent man."
In court filings, prosecutors said the former president and Barrack have been friends for decades and UAE officials moved to take advantage of that relationship when Trump was running for president during the 2016 campaign cycle.
At the behest of UAE officials, Barrack leveraged his friendship with Trump to get language about the importance of working with "our Gulf allies" inserted in a Trump campaign speech about energy in 2016, Mehta told jurors.
When he served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee, Emirati officials also pressed Barrack for details on who he'd pick for various high level jobs, including CIA director and at the State and Defense departments, the prosecutor said.
He also provided UAE officials with sensitive information, including internal discussions within the Trump administration concerning the blockade of Qatar by the UAE, Mehta said.
And as Barrack was assisting the Emirati government, it was investing tens of millions of dollars in his private equity fund, the prosecutor added. When he was asked by the FBI about his dealing with UAE officials and the actions he'd taken, Barrack "started lying" and "lied and lied again."
Schachter argued that the feds were blowing up "meaningless, inconsequential acts," including Barrack praising the UAE as an "important ally" during a TV interview. "Barack Obama has said the same thing," Schachter told the jury.
He also said the amount of money the country invested in his client's $40 billion fund was relatively small, and Barrack had backed Qatar's position over the UAE's during the blockade. The UAE and Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar from 2017 to 2021. Trump tweeted approval of the blockade in 2017.
"This is a decent man wrongly accused of crimes he did not commit," Schachter said.
Grimes’ lawyer, Abbe Lowell, denied that his client knowingly acted as a foreign agent and contended that he was essentially an intern for Barrack. While Grimes did set up appointments for Barrack, including with UAE officials, he did so at his boss' request, Lowell said, adding that he’d also get Barrack his coffee and smoothies and babysit his kids.
"All he was doing was his U.S. job, for his U.S. company, for his U.S. boss,” Lowell said.
The trial is expected to last about five weeks.