Former Trump fundraiser Tom Barrack testified Thursday that he advised the president to use the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi as a “lever” to pressure the Saudi government to lift its blockade of Qatar. Barrack is on trial for illegally acting as a foreign agent.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have accused Barrack of acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries responsible for implementing the blockade, without first informing the U.S. attorney general, which would be a violation of the law. Barrack’s testimony that he advocated for Qatar’s interests could undermine these allegations.
Barrack, 75, isn’t accused of being a Saudi spy, but Saudi Arabia has close ties to the United Arab Emirates. He has maintained his innocence by saying he was just doing what he had to do as the CEO of Colony Capital, which is now called DigitalBridge Group Inc.
On Thursday, the fourth day of his defense, Barrack testified that he had urged Trump to use worldwide outrage over the assassination of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey “as a lever over this foolish blockage” in a phone call with the then-president in October 2018.
According to U.S. intelligence, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned the murder of Saudi insider turned dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Although he claims he had nothing to do with the murders, the prince did say they occurred “under my watch.”
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others began imposing an embargo on Qatar. Prosecutors claim that Barrack informed Rashid Al Malik, an associate also accused of being an Emirati agent, that the United States was considering organizing a meeting to resolve the situation during the blockade. Prosecutors claim that Al Malik, who is currently at large, informed UAE officials of the proposed meeting.
In June of 2017, Barrack claimed to have spoken with the foreign minister of Qatar and the country’s ambassador to the United States. That followed Trump’s endorsement of the blockade in a tweet.
After that, Barrack said he convinced Trump administration officials to talk to their Qatari counterparts, and then he called Trump to urge him to convene a conference at Camp David to settle the conflict between U.S. friends.
Again, from the cheap seats, I advised him, “He should send his teams and finalize this to compel Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to the table,” Barrack remarked. He said he hadn’t told Al Malik of the summit’s plans.
In 2019, Barrack stated it was a “mistake” to criticize the monarchy over the death at a conference in Abu Dhabi. He issued an apology afterward.
As he testified on Thursday, he claimed that he “hesitated” at the conference due to a restriction of free expression in the UAE and that he should have prefaced the comments by adding that the taking of a life anywhere is abhorrent.
Cross-examination of Barrack, scheduled to begin later on Thursday, will likely include additional questions concerning the comments.