Trump inaugural chair: I’m ’100% innocent’ in lobbying case
NEW YORK (AP) — The chair of former President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee pleaded not guilty Monday and said he was “100% innocent” of charges that he secretly lobbied the U.S. on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
Tom Barrack, 74, wearing a black mask to protect against the coronavirus, appeared in Brooklyn federal court for the first time, days after he was freed on $250 million bail following his arrest in California. His lawyer entered his plea for him.
“As you’d expect, the system is working. I think what you’ll find is that … over time, you’ll all see that I’m 100% innocent,” Barrack said as he left the courthouse.
Prosecutors say Barrack used his multidecade friendship with Trump to influence the Republican’s policy, starting when Trump was a candidate in 2016 and continuing after he was sworn in as president.
At the time, the UAE was in a tense diplomatic conflict with Qatar. Prosecutors said that, among other things, Barrack provided Emirati government officials with information about how senior U.S. officials viewed the dispute. A group of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, launched a blockade against Qatar in mid-2017.
Prosecutors said Barrack boasted to contacts in the Emirates that he could help them gain influence with the then-new administration, even as he was seeking a post as ambassador to the UAE or as special envoy to the Middle East.
Federal authorities say Barrack broke the law by failing to disclose his UAE ties to the U.S. government.
On Friday, a Los Angeles magistrate judge approved a $250 million bail deal negotiated between Barrack’s lawyers and federal prosecutors. The arrangement required Barrack to give up passports and submit to electronic monitoring. It also imposed a curfew.
Barrack is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal agents.
Barrack, who has an electronic ankle bracelet to comply with monitoring requirements, plans to live in Aspen, Colorado, while he awaits trial, his lawyers said. He also pledged to only fly on commercial flights. He is subject to a curfew and various other restrictions, including limits on financial transactions and bans on communications with officials from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Matthew Grimes, 27, an Aspen-based former executive at Barrack’s company, and Rashid al Malik, 43, an Emirati businessman who prosecutors said acted as a conduit to that nation’s rulers, were also charged in the seven-count indictment.
Grimes also appeared Monday in Brooklyn federal court, where his lawyer entered a not guilty plea for him.
Al Malik fled the U.S. three days after an April 2018 interview by law enforcement and remains at large, authorities said. He is believed to be living somewhere in the Middle East.
Barrack was an informal adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign before becoming the inaugural committee chair.
The indictment against Barrack made no allegations of wrongdoing by the inaugural committee or by Trump.
A pretrial hearing for Barrack and Grimes was scheduled for Sept. 2, when a trial judge rather than a magistrate judge will preside over what was described as a telephonic conference.