California businessman charged with lobbying counted Trump as “closest friend”

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN

the charges of illegal foreign lobbying brought against Tom Barrack on Tuesday punctuates a sinuous business and political career defined by his unique endurance in the ever-changing orbit of former President Donald Trump’s advisers.

Southern California businessman and former chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, Barrack is charged in a seven-count indictment with acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates between April 2016 and April 2018. He is also charged with obstructing justice and fabricating false statements to federal law enforcement officials.

A spokesperson for Barrack said he would plead not guilty to the charges against him. A judge ordered his detention after an initial court appearance on Tuesday afternoon.

But Barrack’s relationship with Trump began long before the former president ran for office or found reality TV fame.

Success in the business world

“Tom was there when Donald got his kick in the ’80s and’ 90s,” Gary Winnick, a close friend of Trump and Barrack, once told CNN. “I don’t think Donald ever forgot that.”

Born to immigrants who owned a Lebanese grocery store, Barrack made his fortune in distressed assets, or what he saw as low-risk, high-reward properties desperate for rehabilitation.

He befriended Trump for the first time in the 1980s during hotel ownership negotiations, a meeting he recalled during his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, in which he called Trump one of his “closest friends.”

Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s that Trump became attached to Barrack, who became an increasingly trusted advisor and sounding board as he found success in business.

After graduating from the University of Southern California and receiving his law degree from the University of San Diego, Barrack founded Colony Capital, a California-based real estate and investment firm, according to his LinkedIn account. He has been the executive chairman of the company since 1991.

Barrack’s business profile would grow alongside Trump’s notoriety, and by the time Trump began to consider a White House offer, Barrack was well positioned to have considerable influence over strategy.

“Donald used Tom at first to bounce ideas off him. Tom didn’t join for political reasons, ”Nick Ribis, a senior casino executive at Trump who later worked for Barrack, told CNN. “Egos tend to get in the way – jealousy and egos. It wasn’t like that with Donald and Tom.

Public and private support for Trump

Barrack’s friendship with Trump was fully visible throughout the 2016 campaign, as he vouched for Trump’s character amid multiple controversies. CNN previously reported that when dozens of women have appeared to allege sexual misconduct by Trump, Barrack helped him strategize while promising to boast his integrity in public.

When he needed a way to soften his image with Mexico, Barrack urged Trump to take a last-minute secret trip to the country and show he can blunt his rhetoric on the world stage. And when Muslim monarchs sounded the alarm over a policy to ban their 1.6 billion adherents from immigrating to the United States, Barrack urged Trump to readjust his abrasive posture – while sending soothing words back to the United States. its own Rolodex.

“I have nothing but amazing things to tell you about Donald,” Barrack said in his 2016 convention speech, “because this man is good enough, he’s tough enough, he’s smart enough and he’s pretty paid to do it on its own merits. “

Their relationship culminated with Barrack’s role as chairman of Trump’s presidential nomination committee, where he planned and coordinated most of the events around Trump’s nomination in 2017.

But his high profile in Trump’s world has drawn close scrutiny, even though he has remained an outside adviser.

Under surveillance

In 2019, Barrack drew considerable backlash when he argued that the United States lacks the moral authority to criticize Saudi Arabia for its own record of “atrocities.”

When asked if the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi damaged Saudi Arabia’s reputation on the world stage, Barrack started his answer with a joke before attributing the public outrage over the murder in the United States to a Western misunderstanding of the Saudi rule of law.

“As long as you don’t make me a guest at the Ritz,” Barrack joked before answering a question from CNN’s Becky Anderson at the Milken Institute MENA Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Later this year, a report by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee accused Barrack of leveraging his influence in the administration to strike a lucrative trade deal involving the transfer of US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia while sometimes taking advantage of the proposal.

Barrack’s influence in the Trump administration and how he was able to influence it were again called into question on Tuesday.

According to the published indictment, Barrack and two other men – Matthew Grimes from Aspen, Colorado, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE national – capitalized on Barrack’s status as an outside adviser leader of the Trump campaign to “advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE while failing to inform the Attorney General that their actions were taken under the direction of senior UAE officials.” “

Barrack was in direct and indirect contact with senior management in the UAE, according to the charges, and he called Alshahhi a “secret weapon” to promote his foreign policy agenda in America.

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