Veteran financier Tom Barrack has been cleared of illegal lobbying charges stemming from his alleged efforts to sway US foreign policy during the administration of his longtime friend Donald Trump.
The verdict delivered by a New York jury on Friday marks a defeat for prosecutors who had argued that Barrack passed sensitive information to the government of the United Arab Emirates and tried to nudge foreign policy in directions favoured by his financial backers in Abu Dhabi.
He had been charged with acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators.
During a six-week trial in Brooklyn federal court, jurors reviewed hundreds of emails and text messages detailing Barrack’s contacts with UAE officials over a three-year period beginning in 2016, including one in which he told an Emirati contact: “I nailed it . . . for the home team.”
Prosecutors accused Barrack of trying to undercut diplomatic efforts to resolve an economic blockade of Qatar that had been put in place by the UAE and other Middle Eastern governments. His firm, Colony Capital, received $374mn from the UAE in 2017 and 2018, an influx in investment funds that prosecutors characterised as a reward for Barrack’s undisclosed lobbying.
Witnesses in the case included Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and Steven Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary, who offered contrasting accounts of Barrack’s interactions with Trump administration officials.
Tillerson, a former chief executive at oil major ExxonMobil, recalled that Trump had suggested that representatives of Qatar and its adversaries should meet at Camp David to work out their dispute. Prosecutors said Barrack had worked to stop the meeting, which would have undermined the UAE’s diplomatic policy, but Mnuchin testified that Barrack had instead supported Qatar.
Barrack’s lawyers cast doubt on the idea that a successful businessman with a vast fortune and wide-ranging Middle Eastern interests would have aligned himself with Abu Dhabi in return for money.
“He was his own man,” defence attorney Michael Schachter said in court. “He said things [on the subject of Middle Eastern policy] because he wanted to.”
President Joe Biden’s justice department has brought a series of high-profile prosecutions against Trump acolytes while intensifying an investigation into potential record-keeping violations and obstruction of justice by the former president.
Barrack has known Trump since the 1980s and was instrumental in securing the appointment of lobbyist Paul Manafort as chair of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller first interviewed Barrack in 2018 as part of their investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.
That investigation triggered a prosecution of Manafort, who was convicted of bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts.
Trump pardoned Manafort shortly before he left office. As Barrack prepared to take the stand last month, the former president said the businessman was “being unfairly persecuted only because he is a supporter of ‘Trump’.”
Barrack was arrested last year, along with former Colony executive Matthew Grimes, who was also on trial.
Rashid Al-Malik, an Emirati citizen who left the US shortly after a meeting with the FBI in 2018, was also charged in the case. He remains at large.