Longtime Donald Trump ally Tom Barrack testified that he had mixed reactions to the former President’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the White House as he took the stand Wednesday during his foreign lobbying trial.
Three days into testifying in his own defense in federal court in New York, Barrack tried to explain why he bashed a speech Trump planned to give in 2016 while praising Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.
“I’m not saying anything that candidate Trump said was imbecilic,” Barrack testified. “I’m saying, from my humble point of view, attacking Hillary Clinton who was one of the best secretaries of state … it’s not going to be accepted well.”
His attorney Michael Schachter had asked Barrack about emails between him and Paul Manafort, who was part of Trump’s campaign at the time. In one May 2016 email, Manafort sent Barrack a draft of the speech in which Trump outlined an “America First” energy plan.
“Wow, I’m just stunned how bad this is,” Barrack said in an email.
Barrack testified on Wednesday that he felt the language in the speech was “imbecilic” and said his view was, “of course, why I was not part of the campaign.”
Barrack is charged with allegedly acting as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates and failing to notify the Justice Department of his role. He has pleaded not guilty. Barrack’s defense has maintained that the businessman, a Lebanese American, was his own man who made his own decisions and was not under the direction or control of any foreign government.
Shortly before Barrack took the stand Monday, Trump posted on his Truth Social account calling Barrack a “highly respected businessman” and saying that he did not believe he was a foreign agent of the UAE. Barrack is a longtime friend of Trump’s, served as chairman of his Presidential Inaugural Committee and advised him as president.
But Barrack has testified at trial this week that he felt the Republican Party had taken on a “racist tone,” as people embraced Trump’s ideas of building a wall between the US and Mexico, the Muslim ban and other proposals.
“To have the Republican Party not viewed as racist was important,” Barrack said.
On Tuesday, Barrack testified about trying to connect then-candidate Trump with Arab leaders to change his mind about his proposed Muslim ban.
In an April 2016 email between Barrack and UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba, Al Otaiba wrote “confusion about your friend Donald Trump is VERY HIGH,” over Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Barrack responded that Trump is not “anti-Islam” or “racist” and that “He is the king of hyperbole.”
“We can turn him to prudence,” Barrack wrote.
Barrack testified that didn’t think there was anything wrong with Middle Eastern countries making investments in the United States with the hope of improving relationships with the West.
“I would have thought that was necessary to enhance the reputational capital of the well-meaning Muslims and Arabs around the world who are doing the right thing,” Barrack testified.
Texts messages between defendants
Jurors also saw text messages between Matthew Grimes, who worked for Barrack and is his co-defendant in this case, and another co-defendant named Rashid Al Malik, a UAE national who prosecutors said was secretly operating in the US on behalf of the UAE government.
Barrack, Grimes and Al Malik were indicted last year and accused of acting as a secret backchannel for the United Arab Emirates. Grimes also has pleaded not guilty. Al Malik fled the US in shortly after he was interviewed by the FBI in 2018 and remains at large.
In one text exchange, Grimes texted Al Malik an op-ed by Barrack entitled “What the Middle East Needs Now From America” that he drafted.
“Can you please read? What do you think?” Grimes asked Al Malik.
“They didn’t like the dictatorships word,” Al Malik replied.
Barrack testified he did not recall any suggestions to remove the word “dictatorships” from the draft. The op-ed was published in October 2016 and included the word.
Barrack testified that he did, at times, receive calls from UAE contacts who were using a secure line but that there was nothing improper about that, and that most of the time contacts from the UAE and Qatar called him on his regular cell phone.
After Trump was elected president, emails showed that Barrack and his associates communicated with heads of state from around the world to help them set up congratulatory calls with Trump, but he said that he had no agreement and did not act subject to the control of any of the countries, which included Qatar and Italy.