Tom Barrack, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump, was charged Tuesday with illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates for what federal prosecutors in Brooklyn described as an effort to influence the foreign policy positions of both the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and the subsequent incoming administration.
Barrack was charged in a seven-count indictment with acting as an agent of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018. He was also charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal law enforcement agents.
Barrack was the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, and while some of the charged conduct concerns the presidential transition, it appears unrelated to the inaugural festivities.
More on Trump investigations
According to the indictment, Barrack and two other men charged Tuesday – Matthew Grimes of Aspen, Colorado, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE national – capitalized on Barrack’s status as a senior outside adviser to the Trump campaign to “advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE while simultaneously failing to notify the Attorney General that their actions were taken at the direction of senior UAE officials.”
Barrack was directly and indirectly in contact with UAE senior leadership, according to the charges, and he referred to Alshahhi as its “secret weapon” to promote its foreign policy agenda in America.
Barrack and Grimes made an initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles, where US Magistrate Judge Patricia Donahue agreed to continue the hearing until Monday morning.
The judge ordered Barrack and Grimes detained until Monday’s detention hearing.
In a court filing Tuesday, federal prosecutors described Barrack as a serious flight risk, calling him “an extremely wealthy and powerful individual with substantial ties to Lebanon, the UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” as well as access to a private plane.
Neither defendant had to enter a plea. A spokesman for Barrack said he plans to plead not guilty. An attorney for Grimes didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alshahhi, meanwhile, hasn’t been arrested. In the court filing asking for Barrack’s detention, prosecutors said Alshahhi had fled the US three days after being interviewed by federal agents in April 2018 and hasn’t returned.
The UAE embassy in Washington did not immediately return a request for comment.
‘I nailed it… for the home team’
The indictment cites several instances of the defendants’ alleged promotion of UAE’s agenda to the Trump campaign. In May 2016, Barrack inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech about US energy policy, then sent an advance draft of the speech to Alshahhi to give to UAE officials, according to the indictment. In 2016 and 2017, Barrack, Alshahhi and Grimes received talking points from UAE officials for Barrack’s TV appearances in which he promoted the UAE’s interests.
Following one appearance, Barrack emailed Alshahhi, “I nailed it… for the home team,” referring not to the United States but to the UAE, according to the charges.
After Trump won the 2016 election, the defendants allegedly continued to push UAE interests at the direction of UAE officials. In December 2016, Barrack, Grimes and Alshahhi attended a meeting with senior UAE government officials, where Barrack told them to make a “wish list” of US foreign policy items for the first 100 days of the incoming presidential administration, as well as for the first six months, year and four years.
According to the charges, Barrack had a dedicated cell phone with a secure message application for the purpose of communicating with senior UAE officials.
Trump’s first year in office
In 2017, Barrack, Grimes and Alshahhi continued to work on behalf of the UAE to advance its interests at the White House. Three days after Trump’s inauguration, Alshahhi texted Grimes about arranging a phone call between UAE officials and the new President, according to the indictment. Grimes told Alshahhi that he had spoken to Barrack about it, and a few days later, Grimes told Alshahhi that Trump would speak to an Emirati official that day, later telling Alshahhi, “We can take credit for that phone call.”
That March, an official from Saudi Arabia, a UAE ally, visited the White House, and the following day, Barrack texted Alshahhi, telling him that he had briefed Trump regarding the meeting. Barrack also said he had arranged for another senior US official to speak with the Emirati official with whom Trump had spoken shortly after the inauguration. Alshahhi replied: “Amazing.”
Around the same time, Barrack, Grimes and Alshahhi began to push people favored by the UAE for appointments in the new presidential administration. On March 13, 2017, Alshahhi sent Grimes the resume of a US congressman whom the UAE wanted appointed as US ambassador. The appointment of the congressman was “important for our friends,” Alshahhi wrote to Grimes. “Because ur [sic] are about to change the current one.”
Two days later, Alshahhi turned to Barrack, asking him for help in obtaining the congressman’s appointment. “They r [sic] very keen on the ambassador they suggested to help the relationship. Your help will go long way.” Barrack replied: “Yes – give me name again.”
About one month later, Barrack told Alshahhi that Barrack himself was under consideration by Trump to become either US ambassador to the UAE or special envoy to the Middle East. Barrack’s appointment to either post “would give ABU DHABI more power!” he told Alshahhi.
“This will be great for us,” Alshahhi replied. “And make you deliver more. Very effective operation.” Barrack responded, “And great for u!” Barrack was never appointed to either post.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Devan Cole, Sarah Moon and Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.