National Security

Senior Trump Official Thomas Barrack Arrested, Charged With FARA Violation

(Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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A senior Trump administration official arrested Tuesday is being charged with illegally acting as a foreign agent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Thomas Barrack served as chairman of former President Donald Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee. He was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with foreign governments. Donors to the inaugural fund were connected with the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Russia. (RELATED: New York Prosecutors Subpoena Trump’s Inaugural Committee)

Trump and Barrack no longer speak over Barrack’s handling of the fund, Politico reported in 2019.

In his capacity as an informal advisor to the 2016 Trump campaign, Barrack allegedly shaped at least one speech for then-candidate Trump in ways that would benefit the UAE. Following a May 26, 2016 speech in which Trump slammed the energy plans of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Barrack and multiple UAE officials praised the speech, according to the indictment.

Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE citizen living in California, allegedly emailed Barrack to praise the speech as “amazing,” and tell him that an official named in the indictment as Emirati Official 1 watched the speech. Another UAE official, Emirati Official 4, allegedly emailed Barrack to congratulate him “on the great job today, [Emirati Official 2] and everyone here are happy with the results.”

Barrack allegedly asked UAE officials how they felt about his media appearances, and introduced talking points that were preferable to them. In response to Emirati approval, Barrack allegedly referred to Alshahhi as a “secret weapon.”

Following Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Barrack moved to influence policy. During the transition period, another UAE official, Emirati Official 5, asked Barrack if he would “provide insight on the President-Elect’s potential appointments to the positions of United States Secretary of State, United States Secretary of Defense, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and United States National Security Advisor.”

“We’re working through them in real time,” Barrack responded to Emirati Official 5, according to the indictment. “When you get a chance let’s talk by phone.”

Alshahhi allegedly asked Barrack to promote an unnamed congressman to be named ambassador to the UAE. When Barrack responded that Trump was considering appointing him to the position, Alshahhi allegedly replied, “This will be great for us. And make you deliver more. Very effective operation.”

Barrack, Alshahhi and a third man, Matthew Grimes, are charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a World War II era law that requires any individual who wants to engage in political activities for the benefit of a foreign country to register and provide reports of his or her activities to the attorney general. None of the three men registered as foreign agents.

Barrack is also charged with making materially false statements to the FBI about his alleged activities and obstructing justice.

“American citizens have a right to know when foreign governments, or their agents, are attempting to exert influence on our government. This is especially important to Americans during a Presidential election year, and the laws on the books were created to protect our nation from such untoward influence. This case is about secret attempts to influence our highest officials,” FBI Assistant-Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a press release.

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager, both pled guilty to FARA violations in 2018 in connection with Mueller’s investigation. Trump pardoned Manafort shortly before leaving office.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, is currently charged with a FARA violation. He is accused of illegally acting as a foreign agent for Ukraine.