An attorney for former President Donald J. Trump’s unofficial adviser, Thomas J. Barack Jr., told jurors on Wednesday that the accusations that his client was an illegal foreign agent were “ridiculous.” He said prosecutors “inflated petty acts.”
“He wanted to do it,” attorney Michael Schacter said on the first day of Mr. Barack’s trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on charges of acting undercover as directed by the United Arab Emirates. “The idea that Tom Barack was controlled by someone is nonsense.”
In opening statements on Wednesday, Barack’s prosecutors and lawyers said they would shed light on the Trump administration and efforts by foreign governments to gain influence or advance favorable positions in the United States. Confronted.
Barack was one of several people around Trump, including several who worked in his administration, who had legal or ethical concerns about their overseas ties. underwent scrutiny. Michael T. Flynn, who temporarily served as Trump’s national security adviser, admitted in 2017 that he was a foreign agent for a Turkish businessman.
Prosecutors have found that Barack, a Los Angeles-based private equity investor, used his influence over Trump to advance the interests of the emirate and secretly communicated his efforts without disclosing them to the Attorney General. accused of functioning as a channel for He should have, as the government claims.
Under U.S. law, non-diplomatic persons “acting under the control of a foreign government or public official” must be registered with the U.S. Attorney General. Barack faces charges described by the Justice Department as “espionage lite” because they typically involve “espionage-like or covert activities.”
In all, he faces nine counts, including acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
He is on trial along with former assistant Matthew Grimes, who is charged with lobbying only. Both were arrested in July 2021.
A Gulf expert, the government’s first witness in the case, is expected to continue testifying on Thursday.
Wednesday’s opening statements hinted at stories both sides hope to tell jurors in a trial expected to last for weeks. A hardworking father of six who has built a towering career in finance from his aristocratic roots.
Mr. Barack has worked in real estate finance for decades and became friends with Mr. Trump in the 1980s. Barack stepped down last year as executive chairman of Colony Capital, an investment firm he founded in 1991, which has since been rebranded as Digital Bridge Group, Inc.
In 2010, Barack met the then-16-year-old Grimes, and when the then-16-year-old Grimes was hired as a DJ for his son’s eighth-grade graduation party, Grimes’ attorney Abbe Lowell said at the outset: said in a statement. Mr. Grimes secured a high school internship at the Colony and climbed the ladder with Mr. Barack’s assistance. His lawyers portrayed Mr. Grimes as a devoted “regular customer” who would go get smoothies for his boss and work solely at Mr. Barack’s direction.
In the government’s opening statement, prosecutor Hilal Mehta said Barrack “illegally provided foreign countries with access and influence at the highest levels of the United States government.” Barack said he sought to influence US policy and agreed to pass classified information to the emirate “in a corrupt pursuit of money and power.”
Barack, who speaks Arabic of Lebanese descent, did not notify the Attorney General. Prosecutors said the effort “would have been kicked out on the grounds of foreign influence and espionage.”
Their actions were out of business. They were crimes,” he said.
Mehta said Barack’s deal with the emirate began in 2016, when Trump was the presidential candidate, and escalated as Trump moved to the Oval Office and Barack became more useful.
In one instance in May 2016, cited by Mehta on Wednesday, Barack drafted a speech for Trump in which he named Emir Mohammed bin Zayed, then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. praised. .
When his speech was amended, Barack protested when his name was cut and worked with campaign officials to ensure his remarks kept positive references to allies in the Persian Gulf, prosecutors said. (According to the indictment, a senior Emirati official emailed Mr. Barack after the speech, stating that “everyone here is very pleased with the outcome.”)
Both sides’ opening statements on Wednesday touched on the government’s central allegation: Mr. Barack had also sought money from Gulf leaders to finance investments while serving in the emirate’s government. He said his clients’ interactions with these leaders, including biking trips “in the scorching desert heat” with members of the emirate’s ruling family, were quite normal for the head of an investment firm. said that it was
Rashid Al-Malik, the third defendant to leave the U.S. in 2018 after federal investigators interviewed him, is an Emirati businessman and is still at large, prosecutors said. .
Lowell told jurors that his client never agreed to act as an agent for the UAE.
Grimes, 29, was an enthusiastic young man who worked as Barack’s assistant, according to Lowell. That job included buying coffee, stocking food for Colony’s Capital’s planes, coordinating meetings, and drafting sales pitches. — but did not include, for example, traveling with Mr. Barack to meetings in foreign countries.
He compared the prosecutor to a desperate prospector. “There is no gold here,” he added.