Trump ally Tom Barrack used access to White House to help foreign government, prosecutor says

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Prosecutors said Wednesday that Tom Barrack used his long 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.”

Assistant US Attorney Hiral Mehta told jurors in Brooklyn federal court that Barack, a billionaire from California, and his former aide Matthew Grimes “met and received directions from” the United Arab Emirates during a two-year period beginning in 2016.

The couple are on trial for acting as unregistered foreign agents. “They did so in their corrupt pursuit of money and power,” Mehta claimed in his opening statement at their criminal trial.

Barack’s attorney, Michael Schutter, said his client was never under anyone’s control, and dismissed accusations that Barack was acting as a foreign agent, calling them “ridiculous.”

“He did things because he wanted to” and not because he was urged to do so by a foreign government, Schachter said. He is an “innocent man”.

Prosecutors said in court filings that the former president and Barak had been friends for decades and Emirati officials moved to capitalize on the relationship when Trump was running for president during the 2016 campaign cycle.

At the behest of Emirati officials, Barak leveraged his friendship with Trump to get language about the importance of working with our “Gulf allies” that was included in Trump’s campaign speech on energy in 2016, Mehta told jurors.

The attorney general said that when he served as chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, Emirati officials also pressured Barak for details on who he would choose for various high-level jobs, including director of the CIA and the Departments of State and Defense.

Mehta said he provided Emirati officials with sensitive information, including internal discussions within the Trump administration regarding the UAE’s blockade of Qatar.

The attorney general added that while Barak was helping the UAE government, it was investing tens of millions of dollars in his private equity fund. When the FBI asked him about his dealings with UAE officials and the actions he took, “Barack started lying” and “lies and lies again.”

Schachter argued that the Feds were blowing up “meaningless and illogical actions”, including Barak hailing the UAE as an “important ally” during a television interview. “Barack Obama said the same thing,” Schachter told the jury.

He also said that the amount of money the state has invested in his client’s $40 billion fund is relatively small, and that Barak supported Qatar’s position towards the UAE during the blockade. The UAE and Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar from 2017 to 2021. Trump tweeted approving the blockade in 2017.

“This is a respected man who was wrongly accused of crimes he did not commit,” Schachter said.

Grimes’ attorney, Abby Lowell, denied that his client had knowingly acted as a foreign agent and claimed that he was primarily an apprentice to Barrack. Lowell said that while Grimes made appointments for Barak, including with Emirati officials, he did so at the request of his boss, adding that he would also get his coffee and juices and look after his children.

“All he was doing was his job in the United States, for his American company, and for his president in the United States,” Lowell said.

The trial is expected to last about five weeks.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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