Donald Trump’s power broker

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Barrack is perhaps the single person closest to the President-elect outside of his immediate family

Barrack revealed to CNN the inauguration has raised close to $90 million so far

Washington CNN  — 

Chase Manhattan Bank had seen enough.

It was 1994 and the land once known as “Trump City” was an embarrassing boondoggle, crumbling at the feet of an erratic namesake who took out $400 million in loans and seemed all too willing to default on more. Chase realtors could not see a path to black for debt king Donald Trump.

Tom Barrack could.

“We’re going to really, really attack Donald on this and take him down – or you can help us,” one Chase honcho told Barrack, a Los Angeles-based real estate titan with no ties – beyond friendship – to the deal. “You’re the person who could solve it.”

Over the next seven days before Christmas, Barrack and his lieutenant, Bill Rogers, would jet from New York to Los Angeles, Taiwan, London and Saudi Arabia, begging billionaires to buy the loans and keep the bankers from Trump’s throat.

“He nearly killed me that week,” Rogers says now, recounting the frenzied middle-of-the-night flights that kept the $4.5 billion West Side Railyards site from being Trump’s burial ground. “There’s one person in this world who has historically had a non-fighting way of working with Donald – and being successful.”

Two decades later, that lifesaver is playing his most prominent role yet. Barrack is overseeing Trump’s inauguration in two weeks – a project that has so far raised close to $90 million. Once the festivities are over, Barrack, 69, is poised to wield enormous influence in Trump’s Washington as the person perhaps closest to the new president outside of his immediate family.

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Over the next four years, a dozen people close to Barrack and Trump observed in interviews, Barrack is almost certain to reprise the middleman job he played during that West Side crisis – as an inimitable powerbroker to the set of elites desperate to control him, and as a calming guardrail to the man who doesn’t want to be controlled.

“Most of the people around him are all vying for his attention, his acknowledgment or his approval,” Barrack said during an interview this week at Washington’s new Trump International Hotel, where he is recognized by name by staff and well-wishers who interrupt him with meeting or favor requests for Trump’s team.

That’s his life these days: “It’s like being the concierge or the sommelier of choice.”

Unlikely surrogate

With the 6-foot-2 build of a shooting guard and the aphorisms of an inspirational speaker, Barrack admits he is not the likeliest Trump surrogate. With his refined, almost patrician image and the sensibilities of a Renaissance Man, the Arabic-speaking Barrack cuts a striking visage in the populist orbit that is ushering Trump to the White House.

But friends and rivals alike note that Barrack, with a net worth of $1 billion and a network that includes Qatari princes and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, offers something that so few of the people battling for Trump’s ear today can match: trust that, as his financial peer, he looks out for no one but Trump.

It is a friendship forged in both the tumble of deals gone awry and the triumph of a shocking political upset. At every turn over the last two years, when Trump found himself against the world, Barrack on the other end of the line, dispensing frank truths while pleading to the offended that Trump meant no harm.

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When scores of women emerged to allege sexual misconduct by Trump this past October, Barrack asked him to write down what exactly made him upset in private, and at the same time promised to vouch for his integrity in public. When in need of a way to soften his image with Mexico, Barrack encouraged Trump to take a last-minute secret trip to Mexico and show he could blunt his rhetoric on the world stage. And when Muslim monarchs rang alarm bells at a policy meant to forbid their 1.6 billion adherents from immigrating to the US, Barrack urged Trump to retool his abrasive posture – while back-channeling soothing words to his own Rolodex.

By now, word of his influence has gotten around: Barrack serves as the connective fiber between his elite circles and the insular, Breitbart-infused Trump Tower. He brokered a meeting on climate change between Leonardo DiCaprio and the President-elect, and fields phone calls and emails from worried investors and ambassadors seeking reassurances from the next leader of the free world: “Tell me we’re going to be OK,” they implore Barrack.

In a city full of lobbyists eager to play connector, it is the cabal of longtime Trump associates – from Barrack to Roger Stone to Carl Icahn – who are the new set of Washington greasers.

“The way it used to be, you go to a lobbyist, you pay the lobbyist a bunch of money, and he takes care of politics,” said Gary Winnick, a close friend to Trump and Barrack who now spends much of his time making similar introductions.

But Trump campaigned vigorously against the lobbyist culture, and would care for something different, Winnick stressed.

“Tom was there when Donald was getting his a– kicked in the 80s and 90s,” he said. “I don’t think Donald has ever forgotten that.”

Born to immigrants

Born to immigrants who owned a tiny Lebanese grocery store, Barrack made his fortune in distressed assets, or what he saw as low-risk, high-reward properties desperate for rehabilitation. He and Trump argued, bartered and caroused together. Barrack now fondly remembers deals where Trump “took me to the cleaners.”