Tom Barrack, a businessman ally of former President Donald Trump, has been acquitted of illicit lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
Barrack, an old friend of Trump’s who chaired the former president’s inaugural committee, had been accused of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
The charges stemmed from allegations the 75-year-old Barrack used his personal access to Trump to secretly promote the UAE’s interests.
The not-guilty verdict announced on Friday followed three days of jury deliberation that capped the six-week trial. “I’m humbled,” Barrack told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. “I have no hostility, I’m just proud to be an American.”
In closing arguments, assistant US attorney Ryan Harris told jurors that Barrack schemed to become the “eyes, ears and the voice” of the UAE as part of a criminal conspiracy to manipulate Trump’s foreign policy.
At the same time, he charged, Barrack leveraged his back-channel connections to get the UAE to funnel tens of millions of dollars into an office building he was developing and into one of his investment funds.
Prosecutors argued that text messages and other forms of communication showed that Barrack was acting under the direction of Rashid al-Malik, a businessman who served as a conduit to the UAE rulers.
Harris said Barrack marketed himself as the UAE’s “man on the inside”, while Malik asked Barrack “to do things for the UAE again and again”.
Barrack’s defence maintained he had not attempted to hide his relationship with Malik, and that he was involved in Trump’s campaign “because he’s loyal to his friends – maybe to a fault”, lawyer Randall Jackson said.
In testimony last week, Barrack, who is of Lebanese descent and speaks Arabic, said he had tried to arrange a meeting between Trump and UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, among other officials, in an effort to persuade Trump to tone down his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“I was trying to get common ground to try to get him to step back from what he didn’t believe,” he said.
Before being indicted, Barrack drew attention by raising $107m for the former president’s inaugural celebration following the 2016 election.
The event was scrutinised both for its lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businesspeople looking to lobby the new administration.
During his testimony, Barrack also said that he never sought a pardon from Trump. However, he added that “dozens” of people had asked him for help in getting pardons from the former president.
In a statement on Friday, Trump called the verdict a “Great Victory for our Nation”.
“Great news for our Country, Freedom, and Democracy in that businessman Tom Barrack, who should have never been charged or tried, was just acquitted,” Trump wrote. “My great respect goes out to the jurors for their courage and understanding in coming to an absolutely correct decision.”
Several Trump associates and allies have been convicted in recent criminal trials, while others pleaded guilty. Trump pardoned some of them before leaving office.
Steve Bannon, a Trump campaign and White House strategist, escaped a federal trial on fraud charges thanks to a Trump pardon in the final hours of his presidency.
Bannon now faces state charges for money laundering and conspiracy connected with the same scheme – he is accused of deceiving donors who were giving money to help build Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border.
In July, Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from a congressional committee probing the 2021 attack by Trump supporters on the US capitol, and he was sentenced last month to four months in prison.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, convicted in 2019 of lying under oath to US legislators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, received a pardon.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, was also pardoned after being found guilty in 2018 of financial wrongdoing and being sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.