After hinting some charges may be dropped in the foreign lobbying trial of longtime Donald Trump ally Tom Barrack, a federal judge on Tuesday is allowing the charges to stand and the case may soon go to the jury.
US District Judge Brian Cogan indicated in court on Monday that he was “thinning some things out” and considering not letting some counts against Barrack and co-defendant and former assistant Matthew Grimes go to the jury.
But ultimately, Cogan did not dismiss any counts. The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday.
Instead, Cogan restricted prosecutors from telling jurors they could find Grimes guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent if they simply felt there was only enough evidence that he aided and abetted someone else. Cogan had said some of the government theories were “right on the line between barely permissible interference and impermissible speculation.”
During closing arguments Tuesday, a prosecutor painted Barrack as a duplicitous businessman who was privately offering Emirati officials his access to the Trump campaign and administration. In return, prosecutors said, he received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in his company.
“Mr. Barrack sold the UAE on his political connections,” said assistant US attorney Ryan Harris.
Barrack, Grimes and an Emirati businessman named Rashid Al Malik were indicted last year and accused of acting as a secret backchannel for the United Arab Emirates. Prosecutors allege that Al Malik was secretly operating in the US as a UAE government agent. Al Malik fled the US shortly after he was interviewed by the FBI in 2018 and remains at large.
“There are two Tom Barracks: a man who talks about weaving a web of tolerance and understanding and the man he really is when the cameras are off and no one is watching and the façade is stripped away. A man ultimately just leveraging his access with the Trump campaign and the Trump Administration to make money and wield power,” Harris said.
Barrack’s attorney responded by calling the foreign lobbying case “balderdash.”
Defense attorney Randall Jackson compared his client to Japanese Americans who were kept in internment camps during WWII by the US government out of fear they would not be loyal to the US.
“It was done under the theory that these people could possibly, maybe, be engaged in something like espionage. Or that they could be possibly, maybe, be subject to the direction and control of the Japanese government,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that Barrack made no effort to hide his relationship with Al Malik, and that he even disclosed meetings with him on an official government form when he was being considered for a government position.
“He’s Instagram official with him,” Jackson said. “At no point is he trying to hide the relationship with him.”
“There’s no evidence to support the theory they’ve come up with,” Jackson said.
Barrack, who took the stand for nearly a week to testify in his defense, denied that he offered his access to influential people in the US to Emirati officials, and pointed out that he told Trump while he was president not to support a 2017 blockade against Qatar, an opinion that would not have been in the best interest of the UAE at the time.
“I never did anything wrong,” he testified.
Harris alleged that UAE-controlled sovereign wealth funds poured $374 million into Colony Capital, Barrack’s company, where Grimes also worked and earned between $400,000 and $600,000 a year.
“And in return, the UAE unlocked its purse strings for the defendants,” Harris said. “After not receiving a dime from these sovereign wealth funds, not a penny from these sovereign wealth funds, in the eight years beforehand.”
Both Barrack and Grimes each face one count of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Barrack also faces one count of obstruction of justice and four counts of making false statements.
In his closing, Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Grimes, said prosecutors showed no evidence that Grimes made an agreement with a UAE official to work as a foreign agent.
“A person cannot become an agent by mistake or happenstance. He has to do so knowingly and intentionally,” Lowell said.
He reiterated Grimes’ defense argument that the then 22-year-old assistant-turned-vice-president at Colony Capital worked for Barrack, often doing menial tasks.
“A foreign agent does not schlep the luggage, buy the cupcakes, arrange the massages and make sure his bosses’ kid has her stuffed animal,” Lowell said.