‘I am Running for the Money,’ Colony’s Barrack Said of Trump 2016 Role

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(Bloomberg) -- Tom Barrack was grilled by a federal prosecutor over a 2016 text message he sent to a friend who teased him about his work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

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“I am running for the money,” Barrack wrote.

The Colony Capital LLC founder faced an aggressive cross-examination Thursday in his trial on charges that he sought to influence US policy as an unregistered agent for the United Arab Emirates. Prosecutor Samuel Nitze used the text to challenge Barrack’s earlier testimony that advice he gave the Trump campaign and administration wasn’t motivated by potential UAE sovereign wealth investments.

“You didn’t say, when your friend asked, ‘I’m doing it to promote tolerance,’” Nitze pointed out, adding, “You didn’t say, ‘I’m doing it to help the good people of the Middle East.’”

“I did not,” Barrack answered.

The tough cross-examination that began Thursday afternoon highlighted the risk Barrack took in testifying in his own defense. On the stand in Brooklyn, New York, federal court since Monday, Barrack has tried to suggest under questioning by his own lawyer that he largely sought to reassure UAE and Middle East leaders over Trump’s racist campaign-trail rhetoric about Muslims.

‘Waste of Time’

Earlier on Thursday, Barrack distanced himself from $374 million UAE sovereign wealth funds poured into in his firm. He claimed he was “not really” involved in raising $300 million the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority invested with Colony in a digital infrastructure fund. He said he didn’t attend meetings and that other members of team led work on the 2018 deal.

Barrack said he kept his distance in part due to poor performance by Colony funds in the past. “My reputational capital in Abu Dhabi at that time was not great,” he said, adding “I chose not to participate in the marketing process.”

Likewise, Barrack said he was “hardly” involved in a $74 million investment made by Mubadala Investment Co. in a Los Angeles office building in 2017 and actually harbored strong doubts about the project.

“My view was that I thought it was silly and a waste of time and not a good utilization of Colony’s own balance sheet or capital,” Barrack told jurors. But he said he voted to approve the deal as part of a 14-member investment committee.

Barrack maintains there was no connection among his communications with Emirati officials, UAE sovereign wealth fund investments and informal advice he gave the Trump campaign and administration. He testified on Monday that his association with his friend’s presidency ultimately proved “disastrous” for his business, as Trump’s divisiveness led to a “death march” of investor exits from Colony.

Nitze began his cross-examination by suggesting that Barrack had held out his friendship with Trump to Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser and an influential business figure, with a goal of gaining commercial advantage.

“The truth is Sheikh Tahnoon liked what you had to offer -- access, influence, information -- and you agreed to get it for him in hopes of securing a longer-term business relationship?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” Barrack answered.

‘You Deceived Mr. Kushner’

Nitze also challenged Barrack on an email from an Emirati businessman he forwarded to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, accusing Barrack of doctoring it to say that he should be the campaign’s only point of contact with the UAE. At the time, Nitze suggested, Barrack was vying for influence with two other campaign advisers with Middle East connections.

“You deceived Mr. Kushner,” the prosecutor said “You went into the email and altered its text and pretended this is what it said.” Barrack denied altering the email.

“One of the reasons that you put yourself out as an advocate of Donald Trump was to make money?” Nitze asked. “One of the reasons you sought to be an interpreter of Mr. Trump -- an explainer -- was because you wanted to make money?”

Barrack answered “no” to both accusations. He is expected to return to the stand on Monday.

The case is US v. Al Malik Alshahhi, 21-cr-00371, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

--With assistance from Zijia Song.

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