NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s inaugural committee chair, Tom Barrack, was acquitted of all counts Friday at a federal trial in which he was accused of using his personal access to the former president to secretly promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates.
The jury in Brooklyn deliberated three days before finding Barrack not guilty of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Barrack had vehemently denied the charges.
Barrack, a 75-year-old California billionaire, is an old friend of Trump and chaired the Republican’s inaugural committee. He was among a long line of Trump associates to face various criminal charges.
The verdict touched off a tearful celebration among Barrack and his supporters, who took group photos in the courtroom. Outside court, Barrack proclaimed, “God bless America,” and said that he intended to get a drink and go see the Statue of Liberty.
He told reporters that he was thankful that the jury understood “such complex and believable facts in front of them. … I’m proud to be an American.”
One of Barrack’s assistants, Matthew Grimes, was also acquitted.
Trump responded to the acquittal in a statement, calling it “Great news for our Country, Freedom, and Democracy.” He said Barrack “should have never been charged or tried” and praised the jury “for their courage and understanding in coming to an absolutely correct decision.”
In closing arguments this week, defense attorney Randall Jackson said Barrack made no attempt to conceal his relationships with Rashid al Malik, a businessperson from the UAE who acted as a conduit to the rulers of the oil-rich Persian Gulf state.
Al Malik was someone in a network of business connections he had cultivated throughout the Middle East, Jackson said. He also said it “makes no sense” that his client would try to infiltrate the Trump campaign on the behalf of the UAE at a time when Trump’s chances of winning the presidency were considered a longshot.
“He was involved in the campaign because he’s loyal to his friends — maybe to a fault,” the lawyer said.
Testifying on his own behalf, Barrack revealed that “dozens” of people asked him for help in getting pardons from the former president. He also said he never sought a pardon for himself, even after he learned he was under investigation.
Asked why, he responded, “I never did anything wrong.”
Barrack, an Arabic speaker of Lebanese descent, also described efforts to arrange for Trump to meet with UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other officials from more moderate governments in a selfless effort to persuade Trump to tone down his his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“I was trying to get common ground, to try to get him to step back from what he didn’t believe,” he said.
Barrack’s acquittal was the latest setback for the Justice Department, which in recent years has stepped up enforcement of laws governing foreign lobbying.
Last month, a judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to force casino magnate Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent because of his alleged lobbying at the behest of the Chinese government during the Trump administration.
In 2019, lawyer Greg Craig, a Democrat, was acquitted of making a false statement to the Justice Department about work for Ukraine’s government.
Trump also pardoned two allies who had been convicted of secretly lobbying the U.S. for foreign interests: former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a top fundraiser, Elliott Broidy.
Federal prosecutor Ryan Harris told jurors that Barrack schemed to become the “eyes, ears and the voice” for the Emirates as part of a criminal conspiracy to manipulate Trump’s foreign policy. He leveraged his back-channel connections to get the UAE to funnel tens of millions of dollars into an office building he was developing and into one of his investment funds, Harris said.
Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney, pointed to what he characterized as a stream of shady texts and other communications that showed that Barrack was under the direction and control of Al Malik.
Barrack “marketed himself as politically connected. Someone who could open doors for the UAE. Someone who could offer access to Donald Trump. … He was going to be their man on the inside,” Harris said.
Al Malik asked Barrack “to do things for the UAE again and again,” he said.
The defense called former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to testify there was nothing suspicious about his interactions with Barrack over Trump’s stance on UAE relations. Mnuchin described Barrack as a friend who was among hundreds of businesspeople offering him “thoughts and advice” while he served in the Cabinet. In those discussions, “I would never share anything … that I thought was confidential,” he testified.
Before being indicted, Barrack drew attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inaugural celebration following the 2016 election. The event was scrutinized both for its lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businesspeople looking to lobby the new administration.
Leaving the courthouse Friday, Barrack repeated assertations that he is nonpartisan.
“It’s the toughest job in the world being president of the United States,” he said. “No matter what party it is, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats. President Biden is doing the best job he can. President Trump did the best job he could.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.