Last July, US federal prosecutors charged 75-year-old Thomas Barrack, the chairman of former US President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, for acting as an unregistered agent for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), conspiring with the UAE to influence the Trump administration, and obstructing justice by lying to the FBI.
Barrack was released from custody on July 20 after posting a whopping $250 million USD bond to guarantee his appearance before a federal court to face charges of acting as an agent of a foreign power.
Last week, the Justice Department updated the indictment against Mr. Barrack, alleging Barrack also sought money from the Emirate government for an investment fund that would boost the Trump administration’s agenda and bolster the former president’s personal wealth. The indictment cites emails and text messages from April 2017, stating that Mr. Barrack could “pitch” the fund to then Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ).
The new indictment also includes evidence indicating that Mr. Barrack was operating under the direction of MbZ (who was recently anointed Emirate ruler after the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa on May 14) and his representatives to coerce and cajole the Trump administration into adopting policies favourable to the UAE. Prosecutors submitted an email showing Mr. Barrack had personally drafted a speech for President Trump that included praise of MbZ.
The reply from the Emirates was joyous. “They loved it so much! This is great,” reads the response from Rashid al-Malik, an intermediary for the Emirate government who was indicted along with Mr. Barrack but has remained outside the US.
The indictment alleges Mr. Barrack took instructions from former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was imprisoned in 2018 for working as an unregistered agent for the Russian government and obstruction of justice and witness tampering – before receiving a pardon from President Trump during his final days in office.
Manafort asked Mr. Barrack in an email for “an insert [for a Trump speech] that works for our friends,” an oblique reference to the Emirates. Later, Mr. Barrack replied, “Everybody here are[sic] happy with the results.”
Other communications show the needs of the Emirate government being custom-fitted into the Republican Party platform during Trump’s 2016 election campaign, and when Mr. Barrack was appointed chairman of the Trump inauguration committee, the indictment claims he affirmed a request from Mr. Malik requesting he “take care of the ME side,” referring to the Middle East, but specifically the UAE, because that would “position us well.”
Prosecutors also pointed to an email sent by a top aide to Mr. Barrack that stated the “UAE Fund” would make money by “sourcing, financing, operationally improving and harvesting assets” in industries that would “benefit the most” from the Trump presidency, as reported by the New York Times.
The updated indictment now compliments its original version, which states in unambiguous terms that Mr. Barrack covertly pushed and advocated the interests of the UAE within the White House and news media, while acting as an undisclosed agent of the Emirate government, contrary to the law.
It charges him with “influencing public opinion, the foreign policy positions of the [Trump] Campaign and the foreign policy positions of the United States government; obtaining information about foreign policy positions and related decision-making within the Campaign, and, at times, the United States government; developing a backchannel line of communication with the Campaign and, at times, officials of the United States government; and developing plans to increase the United Arab Emirates’ political influence and to promote its foreign policy preferences.”
Ultimately, the updated indictment against Mr. Barrack reveals just the tip of the iceberg of the UAE’s effort to influence and shape US foreign policy in favour of the Emirate government, as illustrated in a report published by Arab language online magazine Sasapost titled “Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Washington” (الحج إلى واشنطن), which found the UAE has emerged as one of the most powerful influencers over the US political class, and thus ultimately over the direction of US foreign policy.
Based on a review of 766 documents relating to the UAE from the US Justice Department’s database, operating under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the Sasapost found that the “Emirati Lobby” – a term used to describe individuals, corporations, government, and private parties working to advance UAE interests – has paid out more than USD $132 million since 2011 in disclosed payments for lobbying services to secure Emirati interests in Washington, DC—making it the largest spender among Middle East countries.
“The UAE has risen to fame in the Middle East,” observe the authors of the report. “It has relentlessly stood against Arab revolutions and the Arab Spring of 2011, placing it at the forefront of Arab kingdoms and states…[it] has not only led the ‘counter-revolution’ efforts within the region, but has also moved the battle abroad to the world’s most important political capital – Washington.”
The updated indictment against Mr. Barrack also raises further questions about the extent to which the UAE and other Arab Gulf governments have meddled and interfered in US elections, remembering that Congressperson Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told Congress during the hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election that the US “must find out” whether “financial inducements from any Gulf nations were influencing US policy.”
What we do know is the Emirate Lobby has received a massive return on the $132 million it has spent influencing Congress during the past decade, because not only has the UAE been rewarded with record arms deals, but it has been the beneficiary of silent complicity towards its atrocious mistreatment of critics, dissidents, and migrant labor.
The forthcoming trial of Mr. Barrack promises to lift the lid on the Emirate government’s covert and nefarious operations in the United States.