NEW YORK: A close ally of former US president Donald Trump who is one of his top fundraisers pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that he illegally lobbied on behalf of a foreign government.
“Of course I am innocent of all these charges and we will prove that in court,” Thomas Barrack said in a brief statement after he was arraigned in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
The 74-year-old, who wore a black mask and dark blue suit and said little during the hearing, was released on bail of $250 million. His travel was also restricted and he must wear an electronic bracelet.
The US Justice Department accuses Barrack and two other suspects of failing to register as agents of the United Arab Emirates as they attempted to influence Trump on foreign policy during the presidential campaign and beyond. Barrack, a private equity investor and longtime Trump friend who chaired Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, has also been charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his work for the UAE.
Charged along with Barrack are Matthew Grimes, 27, an employee in the global investment management firm run by Barrack, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE national who coordinated by text and email with Barrack and Grimes on multiple occasions and met them in the Emirates and United States.
Grimes also pleaded not guilty on Monday. Barrack will next appear in court on September 2.
Trump himself has not been charged or implicated, but it is the latest legal trouble for those in the New York real estate tycoon’s orbit.
New York prosecutors allege that in May 2016, when Barrack served as an informal advisor to the Trump campaign, he established himself as the UAE’s “key communications channel” to the campaign.
Barrack was repeatedly in contact with several senior Emirati officials, and on multiple occasions referred to Alshahhi as the UAE’s “secret weapon” to advance its foreign policy agenda in the United States, they allege.
Barrack managed to insert language praising the UAE into a Trump campaign speech on US energy policy delivered in May 2016, and the defendants sought and received talking points from senior UAE officials for multiple media appearances by Barrack, according to the indictment.
After Trump took office, Barrack coordinated repeatedly with his co-defendants on influencing Trump’s picks for ambassadorships and other key posts, the indictment says, and sought to directly influence US foreign policy related to the Gulf, prosecutors say.