Trump's 2017 inaugural chairman charged with 7 felony counts of illegal lobbying, obstruction of justice, and false statements

Trump's 2017 inaugural chairman charged with 7 felony counts of illegal lobbying, obstruction of justice, and false statements
Tom Barrack. Reuters
  • Trump's 2017 inaugural chairman, Tom Barrack, was arrested on seven felony charges Tuesday.
  • He and two other defendants were accused of breaking foreign-lobbying laws.
  • Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.

The chairman of President Donald Trump's inaugural fund, Tom Barrack, was arrested Tuesday and charged with seven felony counts, including acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and false statements.

Two other defendants - Matthew Grimes and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi - were charged along with Barrack. According to the indictment, all three defendants are accused of one count of acting as unregistered foreign agents and one count of conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents between April 2016 and April 2018.

Barrack was additionally charged with one count of obstruction of justice and four counts of making material false statements to the FBI.

A spokesperson for Barrack told Insider that he would plead not guilty to the charges against him.

"Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset," the spokesperson said. "He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty."


Mark Lesko, the acting assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's national security division, said in a news release that Barrack, Grimes, and Alshahhi had "repeatedly capitalized on Barrack's friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances."

He added: "The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President.

"Through this indictment, we are putting everyone - regardless of their wealth or perceived political power - on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence."

NBC's Andrew Blankstein and Pete Williams first reported on Barrack's arrest.

Barrack referred to the UAE as 'the home team,' indictment says

Barrack served as an informal advisor to the Trump campaign from April to November 2016, and he was chairman of Trump's inaugural committee from November 2016 to January 2017. The DOJ said Barrack also "informally advised senior US government officials on issues related to US foreign policy in the Middle East" beginning in January 2017. It added that he wanted to a senior position in the US government, including being special envoy to the Middle East.


Barrack is the founder and former executive chairman of the investment-management firm Colony Capital, which is headquartered in Los Angeles. He stepped down as executive chairman last year and resigned from the firm in April. Grimes also worked for Colony Capital and reported to Barrack, while Alshahhi worked as an agent of the United Arab Emirates and "was in frequent contact with Barrack and Grimes, including numerous in-person meetings" in the US and UAE, the DOJ said.

The three defendants used Barrack's access to the Trump campaign and the US government "to advance the interests of an provide intelligence to the UAE" without notifying the DOJ of their status as agents of a foreign government, the news release alleged. It also alleged that in addition to being in regular contact with senior UAE officials, Barrack referred to Alshahhi as the UAE's "'secret weapon' to advance its foreign policy agenda in the United States."

In May 2016, the DOJ said, Barrack "inserted language praising the UAE" in a campaign speech Trump was going to deliver and emailed a draft of the remarks to Alshahhi to send to UAE officials. The defendants also "sought and received direction and feedback" from senior UAE officials throughout 2016 and 2017 to promote the country's interests, the news release alleged.

After one appearance in which Barrack heaped praise on the UAE, he emailed Alshahhi: "I nailed it ... for the home team." That was a reference to the UAE, the DOJ said.

The indictment also accused Barrack of "knowingly, intentionally, and corruptly" obstructing justice in June 2019 by making "materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements" to the FBI during an interview.


He is accused of lying to federal agents by saying that Alshahhi did not ask him to work on behalf of the UAE and never relayed policy requests from the UAE to Barrack, when, in fact, he had, the indictment said.

In one instance, on May 24, 2017, Barrack texted Alshahhi, saying he would "remain on the sidelines to help [the United Arab Emirates] navigage [sic]" the Trump administration, the indictment said. Alshahhi replied, "Our ppl wants u to help. They were hoping you can officially run the agendas."

Barrack responded, "I will!" the indictment said.

The three defendants also worked to advocate for officials favored by the UAE to be appointed to positions within the Trump administration, court documents said. In March 2017, Barrack, Grimes, and Alshahhi worked to secure the appointment of a sitting US congressman - who was not named in the indictment - as ambassador to the UAE. Alshahhi told Grimes the appointment was "important for our friends" because "ur [sic] are about to change the current one," the indictment said.

Charges shed light on Trump's Middle East policy

Tuesday's indictment adds new context to the Trump administration's policy toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


Throughout his presidency, Trump placed great emphasis on the US's relations with both countries as his administration repeatedly pushed through arms sales amid tensions with Iran and as the Yemen conflict raged on.

Trump's first trip abroad as commander in chief included a visit to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. It was an unprecedented move, given that no previous US president had ever visited the country on their first overseas trip.

The Trump administration's weapons sales to both the UAE and Saudi Arabia often put it at odds with Congress, particularly after the killing of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump resisted growing bipartisan calls for the US to reassess its relationship with the Saudis and end US involvement in Yemen by touting the purported benefits of arms sales.

The UAE has played a key role in the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, where US-made bombs have been used in operations that resulted in civilian deaths. Trump in 2019 moved to bypass Congress to force an $8 billion arms sale through to both countries and vetoed bills that sought to block the deal.

In December, a bipartisan effort in the Senate failed to block a $23 billion arms sale to the UAE. And while Senate Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the sale, and President Joe Biden pledged to end US support for the Saudis in Yemen, the Biden administration ultimately decided to move forward with the deal.