Influential and wealthy lobbyists have long advocated on behalf of foreign interests without formally registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, though the Department of Justice has not always been consistent in enforcing the overarching law.
Federal authorities opted to pursue charges against Thomas Barrack, who was an associate of former President Donald Trump, over allegations that he worked as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the United Arab Emirates as far back as the 2016 presidential campaign.
Details of the indictment
According to the Washington Examiner, Barrack is the founder and former CEO of Colony Capital. He had served as an informal adviser to then-candidate Trump’s first White House bid and as the chairman of the incoming president’s inaugural committee.
After Trump took office, Barrack became an informal adviser with a particular focus on the Middle East.
Along with a former employee, Matthew Grimes, and a UAE national, Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, Barrack is facing seven felony charges that include acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making material false statements to federal investigators.
The charges were announced in a Justice Department press release on Tuesday that summarized the charges and evidence of acts that advanced the interests of the UAE without having first registered as a foreign agent.
His alleged crimes took place between April 2016 and April 2018 with the obstruction and false statement charges stemming from Barrack’s statements during a June 2019 interview with federal investigators.
“They will be brought to justice”
All of the allegations were detailed at length in a 46-page indictment that had been unsealed in a New York federal court just prior to the announcement.
“As alleged, the defendants, using their positions of power and influence in a presidential election year, engaged in a conspiracy to illegally advance and promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates in this country, in flagrant violation of their obligation to notify the Attorney General of their activities and in derogation of the American people’s right to know when a foreign government seeks to influence the policies of our government and our public opinion,” explained acting U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District Jacquelin M. Kasulis.
She went on to assert that the “arrests serve as a warning to those who act at the direction of foreign governments without disclosing their actions, as well as those who seek to mislead investigators about their actions, that they will be brought to justice and face the consequences.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department alleged that the “defendants 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.”
It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department’s newfound intent to fully enforce these laws will be applied equally or if the agency will continue to face allegations of pursuing a one-sided political agenda.