Barrack has become the latest Trump ally to be exposed for unlawful acts while in office.
A prominent Donald Trump ally and official has been arrested for illegally lobbying with the United Arab Emirates in a bid to turn the United States against Qatar, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday.
Tom Barrack, the former chair of Trump’s inaugural committee in 2016, allegedly used his close relationship with the former US president to ‘secretly’ serve UAE interests through his influence on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and administration, the DOJ said in a statement released by the department’s public affairs office in Washington, DC.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalised on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected president, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Mark Lesko, acting assistant US attorney general for national security.
The accusations suggested the UAE had a major impact on Trump’s policy in the Middle East, most notably in 2017 when the UAE and Saudi Arabia declared a blockade against neighbouring Gulf state, Qatar.
On 5 June2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Doha and imposed an illegal land, sea, and air blockade over accusations it “supports terrorism”. Qatar has consistently and vehemently denied those allegations.
Saudi Arabia immediately shut down its shared land border [also known as the Abu Samra crossing] with its neighbouring state, a critical trade entry point.
Riyadh’s heavy regional influence forced other countries to follow in its footsteps, namely Yemen, Mauritania and the Maldives.
Reports at the time revealed the Trump administration had encouraged the blockade, which was announced shortly after his visit to Saudi Arabia – his first overseas as president of the United States.
Read also: GCC crisis: Where does Qatar stand with former blockading quartet?
The US also charged Matthew Grimes, an employee of Barrack’s investment firm and Rashid al-Malik, a UAE citizen close to the royal family and a business associate of Barrack who the US government alleges was involved in the secretive UAE campaign.
The three defendants are all accused of illegally influencing the US policy to serve UAE interests.
Barrack was charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI before facing arrest in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. His lawyer said he will plead not guilty.
According to media reports, Grimes was also arrested in California on the same day, though al-Malik remains at large.
“Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty,” a spokesperson for Barrack told CNBC in a statement.
Barrack reportedly colluded with al-Malik to deliver a draft of Trump campaign speeches including language praising the UAE to senior officials, in a bid to advance its foreign policy in Washington, according to the DOJ.
“After one appearance in which Barrack repeatedly praised the UAE, Barrack emailed al-Malik: ‘I nailed it… for the home team,’ referring to the UAE,” the charging document states.
Following Trump’s election in 2016, Barrack also reportedly asked al-Malik to send a “wish list” of US foreign policy targets that the UAE is expecting from the Trump administration, according to the DOJ.
In September 2017, Barrack persuaded Trump to not hold a summit at Camp David to address the GCC crisis after he announced intentions to bring rivals to the White House to work on ending the dispute.
The US government revealed that Barrack used a telephone with a secure messaging app to communicate with UAE officials, the indictment reads.
“Today’s indictment confirms the FBI’s unwavering commitment to rooting out those individuals who think they can manipulate the system to the detriment of the United States and the American people,” said FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers.
The draft message said Barrack reported that several senior US officials were trying to convince Trump “that Qatar is a victim! And that all of the other countries (Saudi, UAE) are also funding [terrorist] groups!!!”