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Trump friend sought millions in UAE investments while lobbying on UAE's behalf, prosecutors say

NBC News logo NBC News 5/17/2022 Anna Schecter and Andrew Blankstein
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Thomas Barrack, a longtime friend of former President Donald Trump and chair of his 2017 inaugural committee, sought hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the United Arab Emirates at the same time he was illegally lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of the UAE, according to a superseding indictment filed on Tuesday in New York federal court.

The superseding indictment adds two new charges of making false statements to investigators to Barrack’s 2021 indictment and provides new allegations about how, Barrack, 75, lied to federal investigators when he denied facilitating phone calls between then President-elect Trump and two Emirati officials in 2016. 

Last year Barrack and two co-conspirators were accused of “acting and conspiring to act as agents” of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018 without registering as foreign agents. Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

Barrack pleaded not guilty to the original seven criminal counts in 2021 and is awaiting trial. A spokesperson for Barrack declined to comment to NBC News on the superseding indictment. 

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Prosecutors said Barrack’s investment management company, unnamed in the indictment but known to be Colony Capital, received capital commitments from two UAE sovereign wealth funds totaling $374 million in 2017, after receiving no new funds from the country from 2009 to 2016.

Colony Capital has since been renamed DigitalBridge Group Inc. A spokesperson for DigitalBridge could not be reached for comment. 

A spokesman for Donald Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Barrack was first charged in 2021, then Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said the conduct of the trio charged in the indictment “is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President.”

The original indictment said that at the behest of Emirati officials Barrack leveraged his long friendship with Trump to get language inserted in the then-candidate’s energy speech in 2016 about the importance of working with “our Gulf allies.” After the election, and while he was chair of Trump’s inaugural committee, Barrack was asked by the Emirati officials for information on Trump’s picks to lead the Department of State, the CIA and the Department of Defense, the filing said.

“We’re working through them in real time and I have our regional interest in high profile. When you get a chance, let’s talk by phone,” Barrack wrote to the officials.

Barrack also worked with the officials during the transition on a plan to influence Trump’s foreign policy for the entirety of his first term, the indictment said.

The original indictment also detailed how in January 2017, Barrack’s deputy and co-conspirator in the indictment Matthew Grimes wrote in a text message that he arranged for a call between President Trump and an Emirati official.

“We can take credit for phone call,” Grimes texted the third coconspirator in the indictment, Rashid Al Malik of the UAE. Grimes pleaded not guilty and his attorney declined to comment to NBC News on this story. Al Malik is reportedly at large outside the U.S.

Barrack was arrested in the Los Angeles area last July, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the matter and is out on bond pending trial. A spokesperson for Barrack said at the time he “has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

The prosecutors said in court filings that Barrack provided UAE government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”

The indictment said Barrack was asked about the UAE officials’ requests by the FBI in 2019, and that he told the agents the UAE had never asked him for anything related to Trump’s administration.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar from 2017 to 2021. President Trump tweeted approval of the blockade in 2017.

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