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A Former Trump Adviser Is Charged With Acting As An Agent Of The United Arab Emirates

Thomas Barrack delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016.
John Moore
Getty Images
Thomas Barrack delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016.

Updated July 20, 2021 at 8:14 PM ET

Thomas Barrack, a longtime friend of Donald Trump's who chaired the former president's inauguration committee, was arrested Tuesday on federal charges that he acted as an agent of a foreign government.

Prosecutors said Barrack, 74, parlayed his close ties to the Trump White House to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates.

Along with Barrack, Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colo., and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, a UAE national, are accused of acting and conspiring to act as agents of the Middle Eastern nation between April 2016 and April 2018. Grimes worked for Barrack at an investment management firm.

Prosecutors said the three defendants did not provide the required notification to the U.S. attorney general that they were acting as agents of a foreign government.

Barrack is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal agents.

"The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack's friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances," Mark Lesko, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's National Security Division, said in a statement.

Authorities said they won't hesitate to enforce laws that require disclosure of foreign influence campaigns inside the United States.

A lawyer for Barrack, Matt Herrington, said in a statement that Barrack "made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty today."

Close ties to Trump

In 2016, Barrack was an informal adviser to Trump's campaign, prosecutors said, and then he chaired Trump's presidential inaugural committee. Once Trump was in office, Barrack informally advised U.S. officials on foreign policy in the Middle East.

Court papers said Barrack exploited his close ties to Trump as far back as the 2016 campaign when he inserted language favorable to the UAE into a speech about energy policy. Prosecutors said Barrack also asked for a wish list of policy goals at various points throughout the Trump administration, and they said he advanced the UAE's interests in television appearances and an opinion article.

Barrack was taken into custody Tuesday in California, but prosecutors in New York are in charge of his case. In a letter, they called Barrack a serious flight risk, given his wealth and access to private planes, and his ties to the UAE and Lebanon, neither of which have extradition treaties with the United States.

Barrack and Grimes were both ordered detained Tuesday. Alshahhi remains at large.

Barrack is the latest person in or near Trump's inner circle to be charged with federal crimes.

Among the growing list, the former president pardoned adviser Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, after they were convicted of crimes. And Trump's former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is under active investigation. The FBI raided his office this year, seizing a trove of electronic evidence.

NPR's Benjamin Swasey contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.