BROOKLYN—On the last day of billionaire Tom Barrack’s criminal trial, prosecutors closed with a dramatic image: A powerful financier—with ties directly to Donald Trump and the highest echelons of his administration—reduced to a whimpering lackey obsessed with pleasing his spy handlers in the United Arab Emirates.
Barrack, once a big name in the real estate investment world, is accused of misusing his proximity to then-President Trump to pump the interests of Arab royalty. Jurors on Tuesday afternoon are set to begin deliberating on whether Barrack violated laws against secret foreign lobbying.
In his closing arguments, federal prosecutor Ryan C. Harris recapped emails and text messages that detailed how Barrack made himself a mouthpiece for the UAE on national TV news programs, setup friendly meetings with the Trump White House, and even tweaked the GOP platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Proposals had such ostentatious titles as, “Gaining Influence in the United States,” and “A Proposal to Strengthen UAE Influence in the USA.” In one text message, Barrack even touted how he was positioned to help the UAE capital, noting it would “give ABU DHABI more power.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot get any more of a distillation of the intention of the defendant's than these documents,” Harris told the jury. “He understands his role. He understands his place in the UAE operations… they would have a man on the inside.”
The feds say Barrack’s business meeting with a UAE spy chief on his boat, his lavish dinner with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, and his constant communications with an Emirati contact all had a massive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: access to Gulf state sovereign wealth funds.
“We hit the jackpot in the Middle East,” Barrack emailed in 2017.
Years of UAE cheerleading brought $374 million into Colony Capital, the real estate investment company Barrack founded and led until his abrupt resignation last year. Barrack, now 75, faces prison time—a rare sight for a modern-day Master of the Universe.
On Tuesday morning, defense lawyers presented an alternative way to interpret all the seized communications. It was a billionaire in the sunset of his life, they said, trying to use his outsized position of privilege to simply bring peace to the Middle East.
Emails and text messages were taken out of context. There was nothing wrong with Barrack casually advocating for his business partners. And the payoff didn’t even benefit Barrack directly, they argued. After all, Colony Capital was such a massive investment company that the infusion of UAE and Saudi money made up barely a tenth of its total portfolio.
Defense attorney Randall Jackson told jurors it “makes no sense” that after a “storied career” Barrack would say, “in my final chapter, I’m going to engage in serious crimes.”
He said the billionaire did nothing wrong by meeting with Emiratis to discuss business ventures and politics—or to champion the UAE for its efforts in combating Al Qaeda.
“What did he say that wasn’t true?” Jackson asked.
Still, the dozens of texts and emails seized by the FBI presented a stark picture. Barrack would frequently appear on TV, then immediately have his personal assistant check in with their Emirati “friend” to make sure “the boss” back in the UAE was happy with the way things went.
The boss was “Sheikh Tahnoun” bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s top national security adviser.
The communication ranged from awkward to embarrassing in tone. At one point, Barrack’s assistant, Matthew Grimes–who also faces criminal charges–had to apologize when the billionaire failed to name-drop an Emirati official during a TV news interview.
All of this went on as Barrack threw his support behind his personal friend, Donald Trump, the long-shot Republican presidential candidate at the time. Barrack used his lengthy track record of making odd yet remarkably successful bets to rally Wall Street support behind Trump, which helped Trump win in 2016.
Barrack’s access made him all the more valuable to the Emiratis. Emails showed how the Trump pal constantly sought approval from them. For example, before the financier drafted an energy plan for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, he sent multiple versions of the plan to Rashad Al Malik, an Emirati businessman who the feds portrayed as a middleman between Barrack and UAE spies.
And when the GOP was going to mention the Sept. 11 terror attacks during its national convention that year, Barrack made sure a particular line mentioning Saudi Arabia got cut.
If convicted of obstruction of justice, Barrack faces 20 years behind bars. The criminal charge of unregistered foreign lobbying and the multiple counts of lying to FBI special agents also threaten a decade or more of prison time.