Former federal prosecutor explains why the case against Trump ally Tom Barrack is so damning

Former federal prosecutor explains why the case against Trump ally Tom Barrack is so damning
Thomas Barrack, CNN

Six months after Donald Trump's departure from the White House, the criminal charges continue in Trumpworld — from Allen Weisselberg (chief financial officer in the Trump Organization) to Tom Barrack, who chaired Trump's inaugural committee in late 2016/early 2017. While Weisselberg is being accused of financial crimes by the Manhattan DA's Office, Barrack is facing federal charges for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent during his activities with the United Arab Emirates and lying to the FBI about it. Dennis Aftergut, a former assistant U.S. attorney, analyzes the federal government's case against Barrack in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on July 27 — and argues that the case against him is even worse than it looks.

"Barrack stands accused of being an agent of the United Arab Emirates without registering with the attorney general," Aftergut explains. "That would violate 18 USC §951, what prosecutors sometimes call the 'espionage-lite' statute — 'lite' because Barrack didn't pass to foreign adversaries classified information or the names of double agents. He merely — allegedly — earned $1.5 billion for his company by being the UAE's unregistered 'pitchman' inside the Trump campaign and administration from 2016 to 2018."

During Trump's presidency, veteran television journalist Dan Rather used the phrase "flock of felons" to describe all the Trump associates who were convicted of or pled guilty to federal crimes — a list that includes Paul Manafort (who was Trump's 2016 campaign manager before Kellyanne Conway came on board), veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, Michael Flynn (who briefly served as national security adviser in the Trump Administration), Rick Gates (a 2016 Trump campaign aide) and Michael Cohen (Trump's former personal attorney and "fixer"). Barrack, unlike Manafort or Stone, hasn't been convicted of anything, and he has entered a "not guilty" plea.

"Some legal analysts have minimized the main charge against Barrack saying that by simply registering, he could have avoided the violation, but this excuse misses the point," Aftergut argues. "The way that our government uses, or the citizenry perceives, information from a person completely changes when they know that a foreign country is controlling and directing the individual. Reporting reduces the agent's ability to influence U.S. foreign policy priorities and public opinion in favor of that country."

The former federal prosecutor adds, "That influence is what Barrack is alleged to have monetized, just as did former General Michael Flynn. Flynn, while on Turkey's payroll, wrote a November 2016, election-eve op-ed pitching that country's image and need for American support. He was still being paid by Turkey months later when he became Trump's national security advisor."

According to Aftergut, "Influencing public opinion was central to what Barrack was peddling."

"The indictment says that he accepted and used talking points from UAE officials for multiple television appearances and for an October 2016 Fortune magazine op-ed that praised the UAE," Aftergut notes. "If Barrack had acknowledged that he was the country's paid agent, Fortune might never have run the piece. Barrack would have had no public influence to sell."

Aftergut continues, "Even more gravely, the indictment also charges that Barrack passed along to foreign officials information about meetings at the White House, and that he helped shape a pro-UAE speech by candidate Trump. Think about it: A paid agent for another country with as much daily access to the White House — and ability to steer the president's thinking — as the agent's foreign handlers desired."

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