Emails show top Trump adviser Thomas J. Barrack Jr. planned to meet with UAE officials alongside 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort, ultimately unable to attend because of his last-minute meeting in New York with a Russian intelligence operative.
UPDATE: On Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, Tom Barrack and former Digital Bridge/Colony Capital VP Matthew Grimes were acquitted on all charges by a jury in the Eastern District of New York. Their co-defendant, Rashid al-Malik, remains at-large. U.S. law prohibits trials in absentia when the defendant has not been arrested for the crime, and because al-Malik’s whereabouts are unknown he is unlikely to be tried.
Evidence produced by federal prosecutors in Thomas J. Barrack Jr.’s trial in the Eastern District of New York sheds new light on a key August 2016 meeting in Tangier, Morocco, with top Gulf royalty, revealing the real estate magnate and Donald J. Trump confidant had planned to attend the meeting alongside the former president’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Emails recently produced at Barrack’s trial are the first evidence indicating that Trump directed his campaign’s response to one of the multiple alleged foreign-influence operations that continue to haunt his legacy.“
Mr. Barrack was willing to be their “man on the inside,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Harris in Tuesday’s closing arguments in which Harris also said Barrack had lied during testimony, underscoring the government’s position on the defendant who was appointed chair of Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.
The defense has argued Barrack was just a high-profile businessman who has been unfairly maligned due to his association with Trump, with defense counsel Randall Jackson adding that the government had “produced no evidence of a motive in this case — zero.”
Rashid al-Malik, Barrack’s co-defendant in the EDNY trial, helped broker the meeting in Morocco while allegedly secretly working for the National Intelligence Service of the United Arab Emirates.
According to court transcripts and evidence produced in the trial, hours before the scheduled meeting in Tangier, Barrack emailed alleged co-conspirator al-Malik on August 2, writing, “Paul M[anafort] not joining us, no stop in Newark.”
“Wow Sheikh T brought MBS for a meeting,” a surprised al-Malik replied, in reference to UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Sheik Tahnoon is the brother of current UAE president Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (known as MBZ).
Evidence produced at trial appears to show that even though Barrack was not an official member of the campaign, he had been empowered by Trump to deal with top UAE officials directly.
According to statements made by Barrack to the FBI in late 2017, he forged ahead with the Tangier trip sans Manafort who faced a last-minute scheduling conflict: a late-night meeting with Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik at the Jared Kushner-controlled 666 5th Ave. (during which Manafort would later admit to handing over sensitive campaign polling data).
A longtime Trump confidant, 75-year-old Barrack is the billionaire founder of private equity real estate firm Colony Capital (now DigitalBridge Group) and served as chairman of Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee.
Days before the meeting in Tangier, on July 29, Kilimnik sent an email to Manafort, including a curious phrase that would come to be emblematic of the Trump administration’s multiple foreign-influence scandals.
“I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar,” wrote Kilimnik, a former Russian Army linguist named a Russian intelligence officer by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation.”
“Tuesday [August 2] is best,” Manafort replied, offering the same date as the Tangier meeting, which UAE officials had expected Manafort to attend, according to al-Malik’s communications with Barrack.
In the early hours of Sunday, July 31, Kilimnik sent a follow-up email to Manafort about their proposed meeting in New York, writing he would need two hours because “it is a long caviar story to tell.”
Manafort replied to Kilminik: “Tuesday night [August 2nd] could work.”
Around midday July 31, Barrack emailed Manafort about the meeting in Tangier. Two hours later, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to tell him his flight would arrive at JFK on August 2 at 7:30 p.m.
On midnight August 3, a few hours after the Grand Havana meeting began, the private jet of Manafort’s one-time client, Oleg Deripaska, arrived at Newark’s Liberty Airport. Reports indicate the Russian oligarch’s family were aboard. Later on August 3, the jet returned to Moscow.
Meanwhile Barrack traveled to Tangier the same day, August 3, and UAE agent George Nader, accompanied by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, met in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. to offer support for Trump from the UAE’s ruling al-Nayhan family.
Documents indicate that three days after the email exchanges regarding the scheduling of the UAE and Kilimnik meetings, then-candidate Trump made critical decisions about the UAE summit in Morocco where he allowed Barrack to operate as his proxy. The evidence prompts new questions regarding Trump’s knowledge not only of the UAE meeting attended by Barrack but also Manafort’s meeting with Kilimnik.
Barrack’s friendships with Trump and Manafort stretch back decades. Trump and Barrack met in the 1980s on opposite sides of a real estate deal. Manafort and Barrack have been friends since the early 1970s, when the two Americans met in Beirut. Manafort later met Trump through his business partner Roger Stone in the 1980s while they were partners at the power lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly.
An early backer of Trump’s candidacy, Barrack pushed Trump to hire Manafort to run the candidate’s 2016 campaign. Late in the race, Manafort replaced Corey Lewandowski at the helm of Trump’s successful presidential run.
Prosecutors allege that Barrack’s foreign influence operations began in late March or early April 2016 when Barrack sought to open a backchannel between top Gulf officials and Trump’s closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Soon thereafter, prosecutors claim, Barrack endeavored on behalf of the UAE to incorporate references to its de facto ruler, MBZ, into Trump’s speeches. Barrack also added references to then-Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, prosecutors argue.
Prosecutors also allege that during television appearances Barrack worked in positive references to the two Gulf royals and penned an opinion piece that included input from senior UAE officials.
Soon after the canceled meeting with MBS, prosecutors assert, Manafort used his control of the Republican Platform Committee to engineer the defeat of a proposed plank of their platform deemed embarrassing to Barrack’s “friends” in the Saudi Royal family — especially long-time Barrack associate and former head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal.
At the heart of the Republican platform handwringing was the release of a classified annex to a joint congressional report detailing Saudi intelligence’s resistance to helping the U.S. hunt al-Qaida terrorist operatives. Days after the Republican National Convention, the Obama administration mooted GOP hand-wringing over the annex, popularly known as “The 28 Pages,” by declassifying it.
In June 2016, Barrack brokered a meeting between Manafort and MBS. But Manafort canceled at the last minute, foreshadowing his pulling out of the August 2016 summit in Tangier and prompting Barrack to pass along assurances from Manafort that Trump’s proposed Muslim ban would not apply to Saudi Arabia.
But after July 31, when Kilimnik and Manafort agreed on meeting in Manhattan hours before Barrack was to leave for Tangier, plans for the meeting with the top UAE figures appeared to have changed, according to exhibits and transcripts in Barrack’s trial.
When Barrack told al-Malik that Manafort would not be attending, al-Malik’s surprised response triggered reassurances from Barrack, who replied that Trump had approved the arrangement: “I am empowered to handle all. Better this way. Very sensitive and I have all the authority.”
Al-Malik responded only with “Okay.”
Barrack then emailed al-Malik again, telling him the authorization had come from the very top of the Trump campaign, the candidate himself: “I just spoke to Trump about this for an hour and we decided this is the best method.”
“Okay, sir,” al-Malik replied.
“We will do conf call with Paul on Thursday,” Barrack continued, reassuring al-Malik that Manafort would be available. Federal prosecutors claim that Barrack flew to the UAE on Wednesday, August 3, meeting his UAE counterparts the next day, creating a conflict with Manafort’s meeting with Kilimnik late on the evening of August 2.
Investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller were intensely interested in Barrack’s meeting with UAE royals and emails with Manafort referencing the meeting in Tangier.
In a later interview with the FBI, Barrack downplayed Manafort’s role in the Tangier trip. Manafort told the FBI that it was not a campaign trip and Manafort’s participation in the UAE trip “was deliberated” but ultimately shelved.
Evidence produced in Barrack’s trial contradicts his testimony to Mueller’s investigators, showing Trump was involved in decision-making regarding the meeting and that Manafort’s presence in Tangier was considered critical by Barrack’s UAE counterparts.
The contradiction bolsters a key charge of federal prosecutors — that Barrack lied in multiple interviews with the FBI about his relationship with the UAE.
The Manafort-Kilimnik meeting, later intensely scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, occurred at 666 5th Ave.’s Grand Havana Room late on the night of August 2 where Manafort provided internal polling data from the campaign to the Russian and discussed a “backdoor plan” to force Ukraine into into an unfavorable peace in the two-year-old Russo-Ukrainian War.
Barrack’s private flight from Hawaii to Tangier departed a few hours later, on Wednesday Aug. 3.
Mueller later accused Manafort of lying about handing the polling data to Kilimnik at the Grand Havana meeting. A federal judge agreed with Mueller, terminating Manafort’s potential plea deal with the government.
Ten days after Barrack met with UAE officials, the New York Times effectively ended Manafort’s tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman with a story about documents linking him to $12.7 million in undisclosed payoffs from pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine.
Barrack’s emails with his co-defendant al-Malik indicate the former was empowered to represent Trump in Manafort’s absence, suggesting Trump had foreknowledge of Barrack’s alleged efforts on behalf of the UAE.
The exchange prompts new questions, namely what Trump may or may not have known about the content of the deals discussed with UAE officials in Morocco where Barrack had affirmed to al-Malik that he would act as Trump’s proxy.
The emails also prompt questions about Trump’s level of awareness regarding Manafort’s August 2 meeting with Kilimnik. While Trump has previously denied having knowledge of Manafort’s meeting with the Russian agent, Barrack’s August 2 email referencing his hour-long conversation with Trump about taking Manafort off the trip indicates Trump may have known that the Kilimnik meeting would make Manafort unavailable for the Tangier trip.
The parallel meetings with foreign actors show Trump associates working in tandem with Middle Eastern and Russian efforts to influence his campaign.
Additionally, the Department of Justice has accused Barrack of “harvesting assets” based on an email his second co-defendant and former assistant Matthew Grimes sent to himself summarizing the structure of the $374 million investment fund set up on behalf of Emirati officials.
“While the primary purpose of the [investment fund will be] to achieve outsized financial returns,” the email reads, “it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of the [President-Elect]... We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in … those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”
In addition to illegally lobbying for the UAE, Barrack is charged with obstruction of justice, making false statements to investigators, and conspiracy.
Barrack, Manafort, and representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment on these matters as of press time.