Tom Barrack at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
New York CNN  — 

Former Donald Trump adviser Tom Barrack testified Monday that he was not aware that an Emirati businessman was operating in the United States on behalf of the United Arab Emirates government, as prosecutors allege.

Barrack’s attorney Michael Schachter questioned him about meeting Rashid Al Malik, an Emirati who allegedly fled the US in April 2018 shortly after being interviewed by the FBI. He remains at large. Barrack, his assistant Matthew Grimes and Al Malik were indicted for allegedly acting as a secret backchannel for the UAE. Both have pleaded not guilty.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe Rashid was some kind of government agent to the UAE?” Schachter asked.

“No sir,” Barrack replied.

“Did he ask if you were willing to agree to operate in the US subject to direction or control of the UAE?” Schachter asked.

“Absolutely not,” Barrack replied.

Prosecutors said in opening statements that Al Malik was a UAE citizen who was “secretly operating in the United States on behalf of the UAE government.”

“The defendant Barrack even called Rashid Al Malik the UAE’s secret weapon to influence the United States,” said assistant US attorney Hiral Mehta.

Barrack testified about meeting one UAE official, Sheikh Tahnoon, in 2015, and that he hoped to discuss then-candidate Trump with him.

“Because at that time I knew most of the Arabs were super concerned, not that Trump was going to become president, but that any candidate as president could attack the Muslim religion in this way,” Barrack testified Monday.

After the meeting, Barrack said that he notified Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort of his meeting with Sheikh Tahnoon.

“I knew that Donald Trump, regardless of what anybody thought, was smart, was instinctively attuned to different points of view and that this Muslim ban thing in my opinion was a big problem for him and a campaign to normal people who are saying ‘This is America how can you ban an entire religion?’” Barrack said. “What President Trump didn’t have was any of the reps of the Muslim community or the Arab community about what to do. And I thought it would be beneficial for all of them to create a dialogue.”

Barrack also testified he is paying legal fees for Grimes, who is nearly 50 years younger than him, and praised him effusively, calling him his “sidekick,” and praising his intellectual curiosity.

“One of the worst feelings in my life is him sitting in this courtroom today,” Barrack said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Barrack is a longtime friend of Trump’s, became an adviser for him and was chairman of his Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Shortly before Barrack took the stand Monday, Trump posted on his Truth Social account calling Barrack a “highly respected businessman” and that he did not believe he was a foreign agent of the UAE.

“He is being unfairly persecuted only because he is a supporter of ‘Trump,’” Trump said in his post.