Jury hears opening statements in New York trial from Trump ally

NEW YORK – A close ally of Donald Trump used his access to the former Republican president to secretly help the United Arab Emirates try to influence US foreign policy in a ‘power and money’ scheme, an official said on Wednesday. prosecutor in a federal trial.

A lawyer for Tom Barrack countered that his client had an impeccable record of only pursuing legitimate business and political interests.

The exchange came during opening statements in the case against Barrack, a longtime Trump friend and California billionaire who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017. Barrack has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstructing justice and making false statements.

A prosecutor told the New York jury that at the direction of UAE leaders, Barrack provided them with sensitive inside information about the Trump campaign and administration. At the same time, the energy-rich US ally has poured millions into business ventures operated by Barrack and his co-defendants, Assistant US Attorney Hiral Mehta said.

“When Donald Trump ran for president, the defendants saw an opportunity – an opportunity to use Barrack’s unique access to gain power and money for themselves,” Mehta said.

Barrack, he added, considered himself the “eyes, ears and voice” of the United Arab Emirates, which at one point asked him who Trump was considering for the post of secretary of state and president. Other Key Cabinet Positions.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Steven Schachter insisted there was no evidence Barrack ever took orders from the UAE or betrayed his country by becoming a secret agent.

“Tom Barrack is his own man,” he said. “Everything Tom did, you’re going to see he did as his own man, making his own decisions.”

A lawyer for Matthew Grimes, a co-defendant of Barrack who is on trial with him, said in his opening statement Wednesday that Grimes was a lackey at Barrack’s firm who was never able to be a foreign agent.

The government’s first witness was an expert on Middle Eastern affairs who is expected to continue testifying on Thursday.

Barrack, 75, was arrested last year and released on $250 million bail.

Before being indicted, Barrack attracted attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inaugural celebration after the 2016 election. The event has come under scrutiny both for its lavish spending and for drawing in foreign officials and businessmen seeking to put pressure on the new administration.

The Los Angeles-based private equity manager was a key figure in UAE investments in a technology fund and real estate totaling $374 million. Prosecutors say that while he was entertaining these trade deals, he convinced Trump to take meetings and phone calls with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates.

Other efforts included crafting a campaign speech for Trump praising a member of the country’s royal family, briefing the Emiratis on what senior US officials thought of a boycott of the Qatar and the promise to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates if appointed. as an ambassador or emissary to the Middle East.

Such an appointment “would empower ABU DHABI!” Barrack wrote in a message obtained by federal prosecutors, referring to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which commands tens of billions of dollars in wealth funds from its oil and gas fields.

The US government is seeking to present evidence at trial that Barrack was in close communication with UAE Director of National Intelligence Ali al-Shamsi.

“Al Shamsi was one of the most senior UAE government officials with whom the defendants communicated in connection with the scheme charged, particularly given his prominent role in UAE intelligence operations, and testimonies regarding his role and responsibilities are central to this case,” prosecutors wrote. in court documents.

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