Barrack says he hoped Trump ties would appeal to UAE; denies being agent

Defendants Tom Barrack and Matthew Grimes listen to the prosecutor during opening arguments in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S. September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg/File Photo

NEW YORK, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Tom Barrack, a onetime fundraiser for Donald Trump, acknowledged under cross-examination on Thursday that he hoped his ties to the then-president would encourage a United Arab Emirates official to invest with his company, but said he did not agree to exchange political access for a business relationship.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say Barrack, 75, used his influence with Trump's campaign and administration in 2016 and 2017 to promote the United Arab Emirates' interests without informing the U.S. attorney general he was acting as an agent of the country, as required by law.

Barrack has pleaded not guilty, and argues his interactions with Middle Eastern officials were part of his role running private equity firm Colony Capital, now known as DigitalBridge Group Inc (DBRG.N). He began testifying in his own defense on Monday, denying that he agreed to act at the UAE's direction.

During cross-examination on Thursday, prosecutor Sam Nitze asked Barrack whether he was hoping his ties to Trump could set him apart in his quest to seek investment from Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a national security official in the UAE who also ran a bank, when the two met in the Emirates in May 2016.

"You can't be just another deal guy, right, showing up with your briefcase and your PowerPoint deck," Nitze said. "Yes or no, one of the things you wanted to offer Sheikh Tahnoun was your access to Donald Trump?"

Barrack responded affirmatively to both questions. But when asked by Nitze if he agreed to get Sheikh Tahnoun access and influence "in the hopes of securing a long-term business relationship," Barrack replied, "No."

Prosecutors have pointed to investments by two Emirati sovereign wealth funds in Colony projects in 2017 and 2018 as evidence of Barrack's motivation to work as an agent.

Under direct examination by his lawyer Michael Schachter earlier on Thursday, Barrack testified he had little involvement with the deals, which totaled $374 million. He said one of the funds, Mubadala, almost pulled out of one of the deals after learning there would be an Israeli co-investor.

"If Mubadala was investing as a favor to you in exchange for acting as a UAE agent, would you expect them to threaten to pull out?" Schachter said

"Probably not," Barrack replied.

Mubadala did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside Emirati business hours.

KHASHOGGI MURDER

Under questioning by Schachter, Barrack said he urged the then-president to use the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a "lever" to get Saudi Arabia to end a blockade on Qatar that began in 2017.

The testimony from Barrack that he pushed for Qatar's interests could undermine the charges he acted at the UAE's behest. Barrack is not charged with acting as a Saudi agent, but the country is close with the UAE, which implemented the blockade alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and others.

He said that during an October 2018 phone call with Trump -following Khashoggi's murder in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey - he urged the then-president to use global outrage over the killing "as a lever over this idiotic blockade."

U.S. intelligence says the murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, was approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler. The prince has denied ordering the killing but acknowledged it took place "under my watch."

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Noeleen Walder

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Thomson Reuters

Reports on the New York federal courts. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.