Longtime friend of former President Donald Trump Tom Barracks continued to defend himself against charges of unlawful lobbying during his trial on Tuesday, telling jurors he told then-candidate Trump about his interactions with UAE officials as he attempted to to help Trump better understand the problems of the Middle East.
Barrack, a billionaire California real estate investor, testified for the second day in his own defense against charges that he acted as a foreign agent by unlawfully lobbying the Trump campaign and subsequent administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
Barrack’s defense attorney questioned Barrack about a meeting he had with a UAE official in the spring of 2016, during which prosecutors alleged he agreed to become an agent foreigner on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. Emails later showed Barrack telling Trump officials, including Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, about the meeting.
“If the purpose of your meeting with [Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan] was to collude with him to secretly influence the Trump campaign, would you have said [Paul Manafort] or Jared Kushner [about the meeting]?” Barrack’s attorney, Michael Schachter, asked Barrack.
“Probably not,” Barrack replied.
Barrack said during his previous testimonial monday that he was not asked at the meeting to operate as a foreign agent for the UAE – and that such an arrangement would have been ‘impossible’ in his business dealings as it would ‘chill’ his other investors .
Prosecutors said Barrack used his position as chairman of Trump’s inaugural fund in 2016 to influence US foreign policy while Trump was a candidate and early in the administration. Like the crux of their case, prosecutors showed earlier hundreds of emails from Barrack and text messages showing Barrack and his assistant, Matthew Grimes, arranging meetings with senior UAE government officials to discuss policy initiatives over the course of several months.
Grimes, who is charged alongside Barrack, also pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Barrack, whose family is originally from Lebanon, said on Tuesday that his interactions with UAE officials were well known and that he did not believe there would have been any restrictions on his ability to discuss the positions of the campaign with UAE officials.
“I thought that was actually a good thing,” Barrack said. “The idea of having someone who had knowledge in both confusing areas who could create a web of understanding and tolerance is what I know we all needed.”
“I was so lit,” he said. “I was so excited that maybe I could be a little propellant in this process.”
He laughed when his lawyer asked him about the government’s allegation that he was working to ‘manipulate the public’ and ‘spread UAE propaganda’.
“Not at all,” Barrack said.
Instead, Barrack told the jury that Middle East issues were “a part of my life.”
“Confusion and those kinds of problems are endemic. In business, the biggest problem we have is understanding each other, communicating with each other,” Barrack said. “I happen to have an emotional connection to it because I saw what happened first hand.”
In a further effort to show that his communications with the UAE were not a secret, Barrack said he tried to bring then-campaign manager Paul Manafort to a second meeting with the same UAE official, but that Trump said it was a “terrible idea” because “campaign stuff was hot and heavy” and he wanted Manafort to stay in place.
“[Manafort] was also in a food fight in the countryside at the time with Cory Lewandowski over land claim,” Barrack told the jury. “He decided that if he left his office, he might not be here when he got back. “
Manafort did not attend the trip, Barrack said, but Trump endorsed Barrack’s efforts.
“I spoke to President Trump about it, and he said, ‘You’re doing the right thing,'” Barrack said.
But Barrack, whose business ties to the UAE go back decades, told the jury he was ultimately left “begging” in his efforts to arrange meetings between Trump and UAE officials, because of Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” proposal and because “they just didn’t take it seriously.”
In an email posted during the trial, the UAE ambassador to the United States said he refused to meet with Trump.
“Greetings from sunny Abu Dahbi where the confusion over your friend Donald Trump is VERY high,” Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba wrote to Barrack. “Confusion because nobody seems to know him and obviously because of his statements – especially the Muslim ban.”
“He’s the king of hyperbole,” Barrack replied. “He’s not anti-Islam or anti-racist…we can turn him to caution, he needs some really smart Arab minds.”
Barrack is expected to be back in the witness box on Wednesday, his attorney told the court.