Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.’s June 2011 trip to Ukraine was just another summer sojourn for the billionaire real estate magnate and long-time confidant of former President Donald J. Trump.
For Kyiv, on the other hand, a more lovely season would not be seen for some time.
CEO of real estate private equity fund Colony Capital, Barrack had been invited to Kyiv to discuss Colony’s potential involvement in a proposed merger of Ukrainian agriculture concerns by a man Barrack described to FBI agents as a “great Colony client,” the richest man in Ukraine: pro-Russian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Tom Barrack describes his connections to pro-Russian Ukrainian billionaire businessman Rinat Akhmetov.
Described as the “power looming behind” the Party of Regions by Ukrainian historian Taras Kuzio, Akhmetov backed Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, elected in 2010.
Akhmetov started out as vice president of the soccer club Shaktar Donetsk, run by Akhat Bragin, the head of the Donetsk clan, an organization with alleged ties to organized crime.
In 1995, Bragin, in front of 6,000 fans, was killed by a remote-controlled bomb made of 11 pounds of plastic explosive. Akhmetov took over as Shaktar’s president and reputedly Bragin’s criminal connections.
A State Department cable filed a year later said that Akhmetov had hired Paul Manafort’s political consulting firm to do an “extreme makeover” of the Party of Regions.
Manafort accompanied Akhmetov to Davos 2007. “I am a non-public figure,” Manafort insisted to curious reporters.
When asked if he’d hired Manafort, Akhmetov said, “This is my friend!” according to a report in Ukrayinska Pravda.
Manafort’s assistant and Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates told FBI agents that Akhmetov was so pleased with Manafort’s work that he'd handed the American a $30,000 jar of rare black caviar.
Manafort’s work resulted in Yanukovych’s 2010 election as President of Ukraine. So when Barrack arrived in Kyiv in June 2011, Manafort arranged to have him meet Yanukovych.
The Ukrainian president was diplomatically isolated after arresting his 2010 presidential opponent Yulia Tymoshenko. Nonetheless Barrack, then the owner of the third largest real estate hedge fund in the world, met with Yanukovych.
Barrack later told the FBI that he'd pitched Western investment to Yanukovych at the meeting in the Ukrainian Presidential Palace. Half a decade later, Barrack told federal investigators that he'd later sent a representative to meet with officials from Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry, but that Akhmetov’s proposal never came to fruition.
Reached for comment, Akhmetov’s spokesperson Anna Terekhova said, “To the best of our knowledge we can’t confirm any relations with Mr. Barrack or company Colony Capital.”
Tom Barrack did not reply to requests for comment about his relationship with Akhmetov.
Barrack’s connections to Akhmetov, largely ignored by U.S. media, were typical of his career. For years Tom Barrack has told audiences and interviewers the secret to his success were what he calls “long-lines” relationships. Yet little attention has been paid to whom these long lines extend.
An analysis of Barrack’s so-called long lines demonstrates many of his relationships have been with figures purportedly connected to political corruption, foreign intelligence services, and anti-democratic autocracies worldwide.
Per his July 2021 indictment, Barrack’s long-line relationships allowed him to manage the 58th Presidential inauguration where many of those who sought to influence Trump gathered to celebrate the new Administration.
Barrack, picked by Trump to chair his Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), set about to use his control of fundraising and ticketing for the festivities to bring those who sought influence with the new administration together with Trump and his advisors.
Trump’s closest associates stood to benefit: Barrack, then-RNC finance co-chair Elliott Broidy, Gates, and Manafort.
While federal and congressional investigations have focused on Barrack’s attempts to leverage his access to help Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, far less attention has been paid to a different chart of latitude amid his long-lines relationships: namely, Barrack’s ties with Paul Manafort, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and other top Putin advisors and pro-Russian oligarchs operating in Ukraine.
Manafort’s friendship with Barrack long predated the latter’s summer 2011 trip to Kyiv.
In 1973, fresh out of law school, Barrack wound up in Beirut, where his roommate introduced the two young American lawyers whose eyes glowed with ambitions for world domination.
Manafort, representing a U.S. construction firm, hoped to do business in Saudi Arabia where Barrack had powerful connections. Barrack later told federal investigators the two had remained close friends after this meeting.
In April 1980, Manafort, Stone, and two others founded a political consulting firm: Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly.
Stone was fresh off his successful run of soon-to-be President Ronald Reagan’s New York primary effort. In 2017, Stone told Vanity Fair’s Marie Brenner that he’d fueled Reagan with $200,000 of Trump money.
Following a successful primary, Stone and Manafort’s fledgling firm was quickly hired by the Reagan campaign to consult for the general election.
After Reagan’s ascent to the presidency, Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly became D.C.'s top political consulting firm, described by Time’s Evan Thomas as “the slickest shop in town.”
At Manafort’s suggestion, the firm spun off a separate lobbying outfit. Trump promptly hired Stone to lobby for his various political and business interests.
It was at this inflection point, through Stone, that Trump was introduced to Manafort.
In late summer 1982, Reagan’s outgoing Presidential Personnel Director E. Pendleton James reached out to Barrack who was working as a GOP-connected real estate lawyer in Los Angeles.
According to James’s later version of events, he told Barrack, “My friend Ed has a house down there in California, and they just can’t sell it.”
“Ed” was Edwin Meese III, counselor to the president and long-time Reagan confidant. “Financially, it’s difficult,” Meese’s wife, Ursula, told the Washington Post regarding the money troubles Meese had faced in 1982, “in our case it’s more difficult than we thought, because we never sold our house in California.”
Within days of the call from James, Barrack had solved Meese’s real estate odyssey, arranging a very unusual deal: Meese would sell the home to two of Barrack’s associates.
One associate, a close Barrack friend and employee, lacked the means to buy the home. Barrack lent him $70,000 for the down payment. A builder and business partner of Barrack’s signed the mortgage.
One week after the sale, Barrack met in Washington with top White House officials. A few weeks later, California’s “Mrs. Republican” Margaret Martin Brock wrote Reagan’s chief of staff Mike Deaver to lobby for Barrack’s appointment.
Deaver responded quickly with a personal, handwritten postcard: “Dear Margaret, we haven’t forgotten Tom Barrack.”
Reagan’s White House did not forget Tom Barrack. Three months after the deal closed, he was appointed undersecretary to Interior Secretary James Watt.
At the same time, Barrack forgave the $70,000 loan to his associate used to buy the property. Barrack turned to his best friend of a decade, Paul Manafort, for help settling in the Washington area.
In January 1984, Reagan nominated Meese as U.S. Attorney General. Congressional investigators sought to link Barrack’s transaction with Meese to a quid-pro-quo influence scheme for which Barrack was awarded a role in the Reagan administration.
The Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Barrack at Meese’s confirmation hearing on May 5, 1984.
Years of brokering foreign development deals had honed Barrack’s mastery of scandal management.
Despite Barrack’s associates selling the Meese home at a significant loss months after buying it, Barrack defended the sale as worth the price and claimed his forgiveness of the $70,000 loan was a work bonus.
Despite strong Democratic opposition, the Republican-led Senate confirmed the nomination and Meese took office as attorney general.
Manafort also faced his own Reagan-era scandal in D.C., lobbying the Department of Housing and Urban Development for low-income housing grants written to benefit his clients’ interests.
Manafort signed a deal to receive $1,000 for every unit approved for a federal grant. After the grant funds were paid, he bought into the development company.
At his own congressional hearing, Manafort performed far worse than Barrack, telling a House panel, “You might call it influence-peddling. I call it lobbying.”
Years later, Barrack and Manafort’s scandals in Washington were in the rearview; however, both had kept in contact.
Questioned by the FBI about the relationship, Barrack stated that over the years, Manafort had often asked Barrack for investment advice.
After leaving government, Barrack joined the real estate investment firm of Texas oil billionaire Robert M. Bass.
Owner of the Robert M. Bass Group, Bass was a Texan who had inherited oil wealth and parlayed it into a real estate and industrial empire.
After his difficulties in Washington, Manafort moved to representing authoritarian foreign clients.
In 1987, travel conglomerate Allegis decided to sell its Westin Hotels subsidiary.
Future U.S. President Donald J.Trump began buying stock in Allegis, hoping to get the upper hand in the battle for the hotel chain and its crown jewel, Manhattan’s famed Plaza Hotel.
But by June, Allegis had already rebuffed several offers from Trump and instead set up an auction for the chain.
At this point Barrack had ascended to become Robert Bass’ right-hand man. The Bass Group led a rival collection of bidders for the hotel chain. Barrack had convinced Bass to make the Plaza Hotel his bounty from the deal.
Days after the Black Monday stock market crash of October 1987, Barrack undercut Trump, going around the blind auction and hand-carrying the Bass Group’s successful $1.35 billion bid into the auctioneer's offices as Allegis’s stock plunged. Bass’s share, the Plaza Hotel, was valued at $350 million. Trump had been beaten by his own gambit.
Bass, worried about the deal, wanted Barrack to find out if there was a buyer for the Plaza. Barrack took aim at Trump and headed to Trump Tower to feel him out. Trump was transparent. He wanted the hotel.
When the parties were $100 million apart, Barrack tried a new strategy designed to motivate media-hungry Trump. After leaking word of a potential sale of the Plaza to another bidder to the New York Times, Barrack met with Trump in his Trump Tower office overlooking the Plaza hotel.
What Trump didn’t know was that all of the other bidders had balked at a non-contingency clause preventing the buyers from suing the Bass group if there were problems with the property — usually a deal-breaker for the litigious Trump.
As recounted in the New York Times, Barrack bluffed — it was now or never. Trump agreed to $400 million — a hefty profit for Bass. Trump even agreed to the non-contingency clause Bass demanded.
But Barrack pushed back harder. Two weeks later, he told Trump he would have to pay $410 million for the Plaza. Sending his lawyer out of the room, Trump caved, signing a deal for $407 million.
In months, Barrack had turned $80 million profit for the Bass group. One observer told the New York Times: “Tom played Donald like a Stradivarius.”
The Plaza deal was the beginning of a long friendship between the two men. Barbara Res, Trump’s long-time construction boss, called Barrack one of Trump’s few genuine friends.
In 1990, with help from Bass, Barrack founded Colony Capital, a real estate private equity fund. Colony originally focused on distressed assets purchased from the Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency in charge of solving the savings and loan crisis of the early 90s. Colony later expanded into luxury hotels and eventually resorts worldwide.
Barrack also served as an independent director on corporate boards. Beginning in 2001 Barrack served on the board of First Republic Bank, a California bank catering to a well-off clientele. Barrack, who left the Bank's board in 2021, returned to his seat after being acquitted by a Brooklyn jury of foreign influence charges in late 2022.
Merrill Lynch bought First Republic in 2007. After Merrill’s collapse a year later, the pair were bought by Bank of America.
In 2010, Colony led a group of investors to save First Republic from the retail banking giant and put it back into the hands of its founder, James Herbert.
First Republic is far from the average bank, catering to the ultrawealthy. The bank has no tellers and, at one point, its ATMs only dispensed $100 bills.
The bank’s motto reflects its exclusive clientele: “We are privileged to serve you.”
A First Republic employee told the FBI that Manafort had personally banked with First Republic since 2005. In 2014, Manafort told DOJ investigators that he’d transferred his business accounts to First Republic in 2010.
In 2014, Federal investigators began probing Manafort’s Ukrainian work and asked why he’d moved his business accounts to First Republic.
Manafort was frank: he’d switched over from Wachovia because “the average American bank does not like money coming from the Ukraine or other foreign jurisdictions, such as Cyprus.”
First Republic came through for Barrack when he was named chair of Trump’s inaugural committee.
Herbert, the bank’s founder, donated $50,000 to the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The bank’s investment management business contributed an additional $25,000.
A spokesperson for First Republic Bank did not respond to requests for comment regarding Manafort’s statements to the FBI about the bank, its relationship with Manafort, or donations by Herbert to the Committee.
In late 2012, Barrack partnered in a joint venture with two Russians – Anton Lessine and Sasha Shapiro – to buy LodgeNet, a struggling hospitality media company.
Lessine’s father was Mikhail the “Bulldozer” Lesin, a top media advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the founder of Russia Today, the foreign broadcast arm of the Russian state. Lesin would be found dead of blunt force injuries in a Washington, D.C., hotel on Nov. 5, 2015, just prior to meeting with FBI agents.
In June 2015, Trump declared his run for the presidency. As he descended the golden escalator, many struggled to take his run for president as more than a publicity stunt.
Barrack was sighted in San Tropez that July, logged on a polo tournament’s scoresheet and attending actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s charity gala where Barrack submitted the $11.5 million winning bid for an estate home on DiCaprio’s private island in Belize.
Over the July 4th weekend, Barrack told billionaires in a San Tropez cafe that Trump could win, and that he would be a better president than a candidate.
In December 2017, Barrack told FBI agents working for Robert Mueller that two years prior he’d met with Russian oligarch and Putin confidant Oleg Deripaska in the South of France in 2015, where one of Deripaska’s vacation villas overlooks the Mediterranean in San Tropez. (French authorities seized the villa in 2022, enforcing sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.)
While Barrack enjoyed the South of France, Manafort was pulling out of Kyiv in the wake of a revolution that had culminated with the Ukrainian parliament removing Manafort’s patron, Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, for fleeing the country to Moscow.
Meanwhile, Manafort returned to his unit in Trump Tower overlooking Central Park.
In late 2014, winding down work in Ukraine, Manafort pulled the pieces of the Party of Regions together as the Opposition Bloc. Shocking observers, the Bloc far exceeded projections, becoming the fourth-largest party in the Ukrainian parliament.
After Manafort’s success with the Opposition Bloc, he handed his Ukraine work to an American associate: Sam Patten.
Patten was a Republican operative who’d began political consulting in the post-Soviet space as the head of the Moscow office of GOP-connected pro-democracy organization the International Republican Institute.
At the Institute, Patten met Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the U.S. intelligence community later identified as a Russian intelligence officer.
Patten worked advising politicians in the post-Soviet space after leaving the Institute, including then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
On explaining how he came to be one of the first ensnared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Patten told Wired magazine he’d been working in 2014 for disgraced data-mining political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which had installed Steve Bannon as its vice president.
Infamous for its involvement in Brexit and the Facebook data-abuse scandal, Cambridge Analytica had the backing of British private intelligence firm SCL Group, buttressed by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.
Kilimnik reached out to Patten soon after Cambridge Analytica was fired, ending the assignment. He needed someone to help with Serhiy Lyovochkin, one of the Opposition Bloc’s key figures. Patten agreed.
Later, in 2015, Lyovochkin asked Patten: Could Manafort possibly become the campaign manager for Donald Trump? Patten thought the idea was fanciful. But Konstantin Kilimnik was bullish – telling Patten it was “likely.”
As it turned out, the Russian agent Kilimnik knew something Patten did not: Manafort would, in fact, soon be appointed Trump’s campaign chair.
According to emails between Paul Manafort and Tom Barrack cited by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Manafort had emailed Barrack on January 17, 2016, asking to reconnect. The Iowa Caucuses were just two weeks away.
Barrack had remained close to Trump and even bailed out Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in 2010, investing $45 million in Kushner’s troubled 666 Fifth Avenue property and took on some of the building’s crushing debt.
Barrack would later tell the FBI that Manafort approached him in January 2016 because of his “close association” with Trump.
On January 30, Manafort and Barrack met for coffee at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Manafort had shared with Barrack his strategy for how Trump could win the primary and asked his old friend to help with the campaign. Barrack agreed.
A February 25 email sent from Manafort to Barrack, cited in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian election interference, asked for an update on Trump’s interest in Manafort leading his campaign. Barrack responded that he'd already talked to Trump about Manafort twice that month.
A key point of Trump’s resistance to bringing Manafort aboard was his decades-long business of consulting with Roger Stone. Barrack told Senate investigators that Trump had had a love-hate relationship with the scandal-prone former Nixon-campaign operative and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster.”
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Manafort responded to Barrack by sending notes and talking points on the issues facing Trump’s campaign. The memo was prepared with help from his deputy Rick Gates.
Days later, Manafort sent Barrack another set of talking points for Trump.
Barrack bundled all the documents Manafort had sent him about the campaign and forwarded them to Trump’s long-time assistant Rhona Graff.
“Donald,” the email was addressed.
A second copy went to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
“Please, Please, Please take the time to read the attachments,” pleaded Barrack.
Ivanka responded that she would print out the attachments and show them to her father after Super Tuesday.
She’d left a handwritten note at the bottom of the printout: “Daddy, Tom says we should get Paul.”
The attachments included a two-page memo, first published by the New York Times, in which Manafort emphasized the need to control interactions with the Republican National Committee.
Manafort hinted at the GOP knives that waited for Trump as a front-runner.“My blood enemy in politics, going back to College in the 1960s,” the memo read, “is Karl Rove.”
Despite antipathy for Stone, Trump was still taking the strategist’s phone calls. Stone, after all, had pushed for Manafort to run Trump’s campaign.
Tapes of a never-aired reality series of the 58th Presidential Inaugural included an interview during which Barrack jokes the President decided the best role him would be as the inaugural committee’s “party planner,” a reference to Barrack’s appointment as chairman of the PIC.
But FBI interviews of principals investigated by the Senate, and the indictment of Barrack show a man powerful and persuasive enough to convince the GOP front-runner to hire an old friend to run his campaign.
When Barrack emailed Manafort after sending the memos to Ivanka, he told Manafort that he would meet with Trump “one-on-one” and lean hard on the candidate. Only Barrack had the sort of relationship with Trump that allowed him to “lean hard” on the unpredictable candidate.
Barrack’s hard lean worked. Eventually, on March 16, Trump relented, according to hacked text messages from Manafort’s daughter, Andrea. Later that evening Trump telephoned Manafort and officially asked him to join the campaign.
“You’re the Best!” Manafort gushed over email to Barrack. “We are going to have so much fun and change the world in the process.”
On March 24, Manafort flew to Florida for dinner with the candidate at Trump’s home, Mar-a-Lago, bringing a slide deck presentation to show the candidate.
Five days later, the Trump campaign announced Manafort’s hire.
The following day, Senate investigators would later discover, Kilimnik sent Patten an email, rubbing it in. Kilimnik attached a copy of the press release announcing Manfort’s hire.
Soon after, Gates emailed Kilimnik with special memoranda for Manafort’s former Opposition Bloc candidates.
One memo was intended for Barrack and Manafort’s joint client: Rinat Akhmetov.
By early April, one of Manafort’s daughters had texted the other an indication of where the campaign was headed: “Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and Mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together.”
In their indictment of Barrack, prosecutors allege it did not take long for Barrack to leverage his long lines relationships with Trump and Manafort.
According to the indictment, when told that Sheikh Tahoun, brother of the UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was looking for someone who could really reach Trump, Barrack replied that he’d been a business partner and friend of Trump’s for 30 years and that he had staffed Trump’s campaign.
This article has been updated to reflect the outcome of the trial and Barrack's return to the First Republic Board of Directors.