(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Tom Barrack on Monday denied charges that he illegally lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and said that supporting Trump for president was “disastrous” for him professionally.
Barrack, who was the chair of Trump’s 2016 inaugural committee, took the stand in his own defense in his trial on charges that he acted as a foreign agent for the UAE from 2016 to 2018 yet failed to register with the Department of Justice, which they say constitutes a crime.
Speaking from the witness stand, Barrack said his interactions with UAE officials were part of the longstanding business relationships he had cultivated over decades while serving as the head of a multibillion-dollar real estate company that sought investments from around the world.
“Could you, as you understand your business, agree to operate as an agent of one investors?” Barrack’s attorney, Michael Schachter, asked him.
“Impossible,” replied Barrack, who said that type of relationship would “chill” other investors, who would think, “If you are acting for them, you are not acting for us.”
Barrack also offered criticism of the former president whose administration he is accused of illegally lobbying, telling the jury that it would have been “unquestionably” better had he thrown his support behind a different candidate.
Barrack already had a decades-long relationship with Trump before he began to advise Trump early in his 2016 campaign.
He told the jury he initially thought the idea of Trump as president was a “far-out thought,” but that he “knew him to be bold, smart, instinctively brilliant, and more resilient than anybody that I ever knew” — and that Barrack saw opportunity in the Middle East.
“This amazingly good businessman become the president of the United States who could not spell the Middle East,” Barrack said.
But Barrack said that his support of Trump was ultimately “disastrous” for his work, and appeared to at least partly blame his association with the former president for the charges he now faces.
“What effect did your assistance with the Trump campaign ultimately have on you professionally?” Schachter asked.
“I’m sitting with all of you today,” Barrack replied, prompting an objection from the prosecutor.
Barrack’s comments came a day after Trump expressed his support for his longtime friend on social media.
The DOJ has “has accused him of being an agent of the UAE, which I do not believe he was,” Trump said of Barrack Sunday on his Truth Social platform.
Calling him a “highly respected businessman,” Trump said that Barrack “NEVER spoke to me about ‘speeches’ and what to say on this subject” — a likely reference to prosecutors’ allegation that Barrack inserted language favorable to the UAE into one of Trump’s early campaign speeches on energy.
At the trial, prosecutors showed emails between Barrack and then-Trump aide Paul Manafort discussing the speech. They also showed a clip of Trump delivering the speech, which included a reference to “our gulf allies.”
Prosecutors earlier presented hundreds of communications Barrack had with his UAE contacts.
“I have had the privilege of dealing with so many [world leaders],” Barrack said, while ticking through nearly a dozen countries around the world in which he has traveled for business. “All of the top people in those places at some point in time I have had the privilege of the opportunity to deal with.”
Barrack in his testimony also offered a fierce defense of his codefendant Matthew Grimes, who had come to work for Barrack in what Barrack called the “ultimate gopher job” just after college.
Grimes has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
“One of the worst feelings in my life is him sitting in this court today — it’s ridiculous,” Barrack said, prompting an objection from prosecutors.
Barrack, whose family is from Lebanon, testified that his ties to the UAE go back to when he first worked there in the 1970s, and said that the nearly $400 million invested in his firm from two UAE sovereign wealth funds during the time in question was also business and not personal.
“They are investing, they are not giving us the capital,” Barrack said. “They are investing.”
Barrack also denied one of the prosecution’s central allegations: that Barrack’s decision to act on behalf of the UAE stemmed from a spring 2016 meeting with a UAE official.
“Did he ask you if you wanted to be a UAE foreign agent?” Schachter asked of the official.
“No,” replied Barrack.
“Did he ask you if you would agree to operate subject to the UAE’s direction or control?” Schachter continued.
“Absolutely not,” Barrack said.
Barrack remained on the stand for nearly five hours, offering detailed answers to questions from his attorney and at times cracking jokes.
Attorneys said in court that they expect Barrack to remain on the stand through Thursday.
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