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A billionaire fundraiser who worked as an advisor to Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to illegally lobbying the former president on behalf of the UAE and lying to officials in an attempt to cover it up.
Thomas Barrack, a divorced father-of-six who founded private equity firm Colony Capital is likely to face trial in New York, where the inner workings of the Trump administration will be pored over by lawyers.
The 74-year-old, who was one of Mr Trump’s top fundraisers, has been accused of secretly working to advance the interests of UAE during the 2016 presidential campaign and throughout the Trump presidency.
Mr Barrack, who was arrested in Los Angeles last Tuesday along with a 27-year-old business associate, Matthew Grimes, allegedly used his position as an outside adviser to Mr Trump’s campaign to publicly promote the Emirates’ agenda while soliciting direction, feedback and talking points from senior Emirati officials.
It comes ahead of a test for Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican party as voters in Texas head to the polls on Tuesday in a special run-off election for a seat in congress.
The former president’s Make America Great Again political action committee has paid for a last-minute $100,000 advertising blitz for Susan Wright, the widow of congressman Ron Wright, who died in February after battling coronavirus and cancer.
Ms Wright is running for her late husband’s seat against fellow Republican Jake Ellzey, a fighter pilot and state representative with support from former Governor Rick Perry and a handful of other prominent Texans.
The seat of North Texas’ District 6, just south of Dallas and Fort Worth will be one of the first major tests of Mr Trump’s influence over Republican voters and the party as a whole ahead of the midterm elections next year.
Ms Wright is leading in the polls, but turnout is expected to be low and Democrat voters, without a candidate on the ballot, could swing for Mr Ellzey as an anti-Trump protest.
In campaign material, Mr Ellzey is described as “a strong, conservative Christian and American hero,” who is “100 per cent pro-life, pro-gun, pro-border security, and pro-America.”
But he has been savaged by an anti-tax group called the Club for Growth, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting Ms Wright.
Mr Trump has gone the extra mile for his preferred candidate and was due to hold a tele-rally on Monday night.
He also recorded a phone message for constituents, which says: “Hello, this is your hopefully all-time favorite president, Donald Trump. I’m asking you to go out and vote for a great Republican, a great woman, Susan Wright.”
Mr Trump also released a statement, saying: “Susan Wright has my Complete and Total Endorsement. She will represent her district, and our Country, very well!”
The election will be keenly watched in Washington where a huge row has erupted over the January 6 select committee enquiry, threatening to derail it entirely.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to sit on the committee investigating the insurrection, but the pair have been threatened with punishment by their own party.
Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said they could be stripped of their roles on other committees.
Despite the brouhaha over the appointments, the committee is set to start its investigation on Tuesday, when four police officers will give evidence about their experiences at the Capitol earlier this year.