From Jeffrey Epstein, Jared Kushner And Harvey Weinstein To Paul Manafort, Barrack's Been Part Of The Trump-World Conspiracies
Jury selection in Trump crony Tom Barrack’s espionage-lite trial starts today. Barrack, an American-born billionaire of Lebanese heritage, has been a career-long “fixer” (since 1972, a young attorney in his 20s, when the Nixon’s crooked lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, sent him to live in Saudi Arabia to curry favor) in relations involving Arab dictators and “royal” families. He worked briefly for the Reagan administration and was involved with some shady dealings and bribery involving Ed Meese, was dragged before a congressional committee and forced to testify but was never prosecuted. His story is a perfect example of what happens when a crook isn’t held accountable and feels a sense of permission to push the boundaries.
After leaving government “service,” he founded Colony Capital, a shady international private equity firm dealing in real estate transactions. (Barrack may be best known as a sleazy Trump pal and predatory slum lord but he also owns the legendary Raffles Hotels in Asia and Neverland, the state where Michael Jackson would molest underage boys.)
Barrack’s first known dealings with Trump were in the ‘80s when Trump bought a stake in Alexander’s department store and then the Plaza Hotel. Eventually, each property was part of the legacy of Trump serial bankruptcies. Barrack’s shady dealings with Trump never stopped and in 2010 he gave Jared Kushner’s failing 666 Fifth Avenue property a $70 million cash infusion and later kept him out of bankruptcy by forgiving the loan/bribe. That was the same year he and the government of Qatar bought Harvey Weinstein’s film company, Miramax for $660 million. Until very recently, Barrack had kept Weinstein afloat during his sexual predator challenges.
Barrack was a major Trump campaign fundraiser and is the Trump advisor who brought cooked Russian spy Paul Manafort into the fold. Even before Trump was elected, Barrack was setting up shady deals between the Islamophobic Trump and Arab royals and there have long been rumors that the Gulf states funneled money illegally into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign through Barrack. Barrack was chair of the most corrupt presidential inauguration committee in history, which raised over $100 million, much of it never accounted for and which certainly flowed into Trump’s own pockets. In 2021 Barrack was indicted as an agent working for a foreign power (United Arab Emirates), as well as for obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. He spent two days in jail before being released on a quarter billion dollar bond (including $5 million in cash).
CNN summed up the Barrack’s most recent problem like this: “a former Donald Trump adviser whom authorities allege was involved in a two-year effort to try to influence the policy decisions of the Trump campaign and administration to benefit the United Arab Emirates… [conspiring] to capitalize on Barrack’s close relationship to Trump by promoting the UAE’s interests through media interviews, advocating for a candidate preferred by the UAE to serve as US ambassador to the country, helping UAE officials in their dealings with the White House, and by pushing back against a proposed summit at Camp David to resolve a dispute involving Qatar and Gulf states. The summit never happened.”
According to the indictment, the alleged foreign agent scheme lasted from April 2016, during the presidential campaign, to April 2018, through Trump’s first year in office.
Prosecutors allege that in 2016, Barrack 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 Al Malik, “I nailed it … for the home team,” referring not to the United States but to the UAE, according to the charges.
In another instance, prosecutors allege, in April 2017, Barrack told Al Malik 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 Al Malik.
“This will be great for us,” Al Malik replied. “And make you deliver more. Very effective operation.” Barrack responded, “And great for u!” Barrack was never appointed to either post.
At the same time, prosecutors allege, Barrack obtained $374 million for his California investment firm from two Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds. An investment tracker credited the bulk of the investment to “Barrack Magic,” according to the indictment.
Mark Vandevelde, writing for the Financial Times, expects the trial to open a window on Trump’s "freewheeling diplomacy", noting that it’s “one of the highest-profile criminal prosecutions yet to emerge from the Trump presidency.
“The case,” reported Vandevelde, “opens a window on a freewheeling period of US diplomacy under a president who disdained traditional alliances and sought to craft a more transactional foreign policy. Eschewing the advice of career state department officials, Trump often consulted instead with a trusted circle of executives from the worlds of finance and real estate… In court filings in September, prosecutors complained about Barrack’s decision to pay $15,000 a month to one of [the] potential witnesses, his former executive assistant Alison Marckstadt, while she was serving in a consultancy role on his legal defence team. Prosecutors have said that Marckstadt has no legal training or experience and that her hiring ‘creates an appearance of impropriety.’”
In one 2017 episode that prosecutors have cited in their case against Barrack, the US investor allegedly tried to help the UAE win support for a regional embargo on its gas-rich neighbour Qatar. In another, prosecutors say he sought to persuade US officials to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.
“This will be a huge win [if] we can list them,” Rashid Al-Malik, an Emirati who has also been charged in the case, wrote in a message to one of Barrack’s colleagues that was cited by prosecutors. The authorities say Al-Malik served as Barrack’s handler while living in Los Angeles on a student visa. He left the country shortly after an interview with FBI agents in 2018 and has not returned.
…The dual roles as unofficial presidential counsellor and executive chair of Colony may have provided Barrack with opportunities to profit from investments in the Middle East at the same time as nudging the course of US policy towards the region, according to a report by congressional investigators and documents filed in the criminal case.
An investigation by the House of Representatives committee on oversight and reform in 2019 detailed how Barrack pushed a plan to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, at the same time as pursuing a deal that would have allowed Colony to take stake in a US reactor maker that was among the proposal’s likely beneficiaries.
While the nuclear deal ultimately stalled and does not feature in the criminal case against Barrack, another effort to meld money and politics appeared to be more fruitful.
US authorities say that, at the same time as he was acting at the direction of the UAE, Barrack secured $374 million of capital commitments from the country’s sovereign wealth funds. An email sent by a Colony employee and later obtained by investigators stated that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the [investment fund] [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns,” it would also “garner political credibility for its contributions to [Trump’s] policies.”
Barrack left Colony last year, receiving termination benefits including vesting of equity awards and a cash payment of $21.4 million. Shares in the New York Stock Exchange-listed company have fallen nearly 70 per cent in the past five years. Barrack’s son and daughter also left the company last year, receiving severance payments that added up to more than $400,000.
Prosecutors have not accused Colony of any wrongdoing, and the company has sought to move on from Barrack’s tenure, renaming itself DigitalBridge as part of a shift towards investing in data centres and other digital assets. DigitalBridge is making payments to cover Barrack’s legal bills.
The case underscores how Trump’s approach to governing blurred the line between statecraft and financial empire building, not only for the president himself but also for some of his associates.