Trump friend with business ties to Middle East pushed to shape U.S. policy in the region, House Democratic report says – The Washington Post
Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a Los Angeles-based investor and informal adviser to President Trump, sought powerful positions in the Trump administration in 2017 while pushing a U.S. nuclear energy policy in the Middle East that could benefit his company, according to a new report by congressional Democrats.
The allegations detailed in a report released Monday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee come weeks after Barrack was interviewed by federal prosecutors about his work for foreign clients.
Together, the inquiries intensify the spotlight on the longtime Trump friend, who played a central role in raising big-dollar contributions for the president’s campaign and inaugural committee. Multiple federal probes have been examining possible foreign influence on Trump’s campaign including through donors to his inaugural committee, which raised a record $107 million.
Barrack requested the June interview with the public integrity unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which was first reported by the New York Times, after prosecutors began examining his business ties to the Middle East, according to his spokesman Tommy Davis.
Barrack has not been accused of wrongdoing, and Davis said prosecutors have informed him they have no further questions for him.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
In its new report, the House Oversight committee alleges that Barrack sought to leverage his relationship with Trump in an effort to promote corporate interests, including his own. Over the years, he has done significant real estate deals with investors in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
During the 2016 campaign, for example, Barrack shared the draft of a speech then-candidate Trump planned to give on energy with an associate in Dubai, who then sought input from officials in the region. Barrack then passed along their suggestions to Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
“This is probably as close as I can get without crossing a lot of lines,” Barrack wrote in a May 13, 2016, email cited in the report.
The report concentrates on the period from January to May 2017, when it says Barrack sought to be named to several administration posts — including special envoy to the Middle East and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. (Barrack has said he preferred to remain an outside adviser.)
All the while, House investigators wrote, Barrack advocated on behalf of Saudi interests seeking to obtain U.S. nuclear technology and took steps to see that his company, Colony NorthStar, would profit from the proposals he was advancing. The report notes that, despite this advocacy, Barrack did not register as a foreign lobbyist.
White House officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Barrack aides have said that he was not advocating on behalf of foreign entities in his dealings with Trump officials and did not act improperly.
In a statement Monday, Barrack spokesman Owen Blicksilver said that the investor has been cooperating with the House investigation. “Mr. Barrack’s engagement in investment and business development throughout the Middle East for the purpose of better aligned Middle East and U.S. objectives are well known,” Blicksilver said, adding that Barrack’s “consistent attempts to bridge the divide of tolerance and understanding between these two great cultures is etched in the annals of time. This is not political, it is essential.”
A February report by the House panel said that members of the National Security Council and other senior White House officials objected to plans pushed by key administration officials to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia.
In its latest report, House Oversight investigators described more frequent and wide-ranging conversations between top administration officials, including Trump, and private companies with an interest in transferring U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
Barrack, who has known Trump for decades and served as his top campaign fundraiser, was a key conduit, according to the report, which cites thousands of documents turned over in recent months by private-sector companies and government agencies.
“The Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who has been under fire from Trump in recent days, said in a statement.
“The American people deserve to know the facts about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s personal friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,” he added.
The Trump administration has allowed U.S. nuclear energy companies to share sensitive technological information with Saudi Arabia, but has so far not approved the full transfer of nuclear technology to the kingdom.
Republican members of the Oversight panel rejected the conclusions of the Democratic majority.
“The evidence currently before the Committee does not show impropriety in the proposed transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia,” the Republicans said in a minority report released last week.
“Chairman Cummings and Oversight Democrats are obsessed with investigating every decision made by the Trump White House — especially when it involves a member of the First Family,” the GOP report said. “In this case, however, the evidence before the committee simply does not substantiate the allegation leveled,” against the administration.
The majority Democratic report notes that one of the power-plant manufacturers that could benefit from a nuclear deal, Westinghouse Electric, was the subject of interest from several potential investors, including IP3, a group of former top military officials with whom Barrack and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn were in close contact.
Westinghouse is the only U.S. manufacturer of large-scale nuclear reactors, and at one point Barrack expressed interest in purchasing the company using Saudi and Emirati capital but with sufficient U.S. ownership to discourage scrutiny from U.S. regulators, according to the report.
The House investigators concluded that key administration officials, such as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, were viewed by private interests as advocates for their position.
After Trump and Kushner met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in March 2017, officials of IP3 touted the meeting as having “established the framework for our unique opportunity to take the next steps with IP3 and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” according to the report.
IP3 issued a company statement late Monday criticizing the report for linking “misunderstandings with conspiracy theories and allegations to create an arbitrary and contrived story that doesn’t reflect the reality that occurred.”
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.