By TOM HAYS Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A close ally of Donald Trump used his access to the former Republican president to secretly help the United Arab Emirates try to gain influence over American foreign policy in a scheme about “power and money,” a prosecutor said. Wednesday in a federal trial.
An attorney for Tom Barrack countered that his client has an impeccable record of pursuing only legitimate business and political interests.
The exchange came during opening statements in the case against Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump’s and a California billionaire who chaired Trump’s inaugural caucus in 2017. Barrack has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of acting as an unregistered agent. of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
A prosecutor told a New York City jury that, at the direction of UAE leaders, Barrack provided them with sensitive inside information about the Trump campaign and administration. At the same time, the energy-rich US ally invested millions of dollars in business ventures operated by Barrack and his co-defendants, Assistant US Attorney Hiral Mehta said.
“When Donald Trump ran for president, the defendants saw an opportunity, an opportunity to use Barrack’s unique access to gain power and money for themselves,” Mehta said.
Barrack, he added, considered himself the “eyes, ears and voice” of the UAE, which at one point asked him to find out who Trump was considering for secretary of state and other key cabinet posts.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Steven Schachter insisted there was no evidence Barrack ever took orders from the United Arab Emirates or betrayed his country by going undercover.
“Tom Barrack is his own man,” he said. “Everything Tom did, you’ll see he did it as his own man, making his own decisions.”
An attorney for Matthew Grimes, Barrack’s co-defendant who is on trial with him, said in his opening statement Wednesday that Grimes was a lackey at Barrack’s firm who was never fit to be a foreign agent.
The first government witness was an expert on Middle East affairs who is expected to testify again on Thursday.
Barrack, 75, was arrested last year and released on $250 million bail.
Before he was indicted, Barrack drew attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inaugural celebration following the 2016 election. The event drew scrutiny both for its lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businessmen seeking to pressure the administration. new administration.
The Los Angeles-based private equity manager was a key figure in the UAE’s investments in a technology fund and real estate totaling $374 million. Prosecutors say that while he was promoting such deals, he convinced Trump to meet with and telephone the leaders of the United Arab Emirates.
Other efforts included drafting a campaign speech for Trump that praised a member of the country’s royal family, relaying information to Emiratis about how senior US officials felt about boycotting Qatar, and promising to advance Emirati interests. United Arabs if appointed. as ambassador or envoy to the Middle East.
Such an appointment “would give ABU DHABI more power!” Barrack wrote in a message obtained by federal prosecutors, referring to the United Arab Emirates capital, which controls tens of billions of dollars in wealth funds from its oil and gas deposits.
The US government is seeking to present evidence at trial that Barrack was in close communication with the United Arab Emirates’ director of national intelligence, Ali al-Shamsi.
“Al Shamsi was one of the most senior UAE government officials with whom the defendants communicated as part of the charges scheme, particularly given his leading role in UAE intelligence operations, and testimony about his role and responsibilities is critical to this case,” prosecutors wrote. in court documents.
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