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Top Trump aide accused of working as foreign agent

Billionaire and long-time Donald Trump ally Thomas J Barrack has been arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly acting as an agent of a foreign government.

The 74-year-old investment firm founder served as a key adviser to the former US president’s 2016 campaign, and was considered a top fundraiser.

Mr Barrack is accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates during and after the campaign.

A spokesman for Mr Barrack said he planned to plead not guilty.

He is the latest ex-Trump official to face federal charges.

Mr Barrack is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to the FBI during a 2019 interview

Also charged are Matthew Grimes, 27 – who works for Mr Barrack – and UAE citizen Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, according to the seven-page indictment.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said the conduct alleged in the indictment was “nothing short of a betrayal” of US officials including Mr Trump himself.

The three men are accused of seeking to advance the interests of the UAE government both by influencing Trump officials and through media appearances.

In May 2016 Mr Barrack is alleged to have inserted language praising the UAE into a Trump campaign speech. An advanced draft of the speech was allegedly sent to Mr Alshahhi to pass on to UAE officials.

The defendants are also alleged to have received “talking points” from senior UAE officials for use in media appearances.

“After one appearance in which Barrack repeatedly praised the UAE, Barrack emailed Alshahhi, ‘I nailed it… for the home team,’ referring to the UAE,” the charging document states.

The men also allegedly agreed to promote the candidacy of a UAE-favoured individual to serve as US ambassador to Abu Dhabi.

In December 2016 – following the election – Mr Barrack is also alleged to have advised Mr Grimes and Mr Alshahhi to create a “wish list” of US foreign policy items that the UAE wanted to see accomplished during the Trump administration.

While Mr Barrack and Mr Grimes were both arrested in California on Tuesday morning, Mr Alshahhi remains at large.

With the announcement, Mr Barrack becomes the latest Trump aide to face criminal charges, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen.

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Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

Donald Trump may be out of office, but members of his inner circle are still in the prosecutorial cross-hairs. Tom Barrack is just the latest target.

It’s difficult to overstate Barrack’s ties to Trump over the course of their four-decade friendship. He was instrumental, for instance, in convincing then-candidate Trump to hire Paul Manafort as his campaign manager and helped fill out senior staff positions.

Now, like Manafort and other Trump associates, Barrack faces accusations of using his ties to Trump to advance the interests of a foreign government.

It’s yet another indication that during Trump’s campaign and the early days of his presidency, nations sought to take advantage of the novice nature of Trump’s political team to gain influence over US foreign policy – both above the table and under it.

Barrack and Trump reportedly have had a falling out, but their ties run deep. If he wants to talk about Trump’s past activities, prosecutors may be inclined to listen.


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