Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may have ended, but the probes of foreign influence in President Donald Trump’s campaign continue — and they appear to be sprawling.
A new report from the New York Times Sunday revealed that Tom Barrack, a friend and fundraiser for the president, has faced scrutiny from federal investigators in Brooklyn over whether he has complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The question is whether Barrack acted during the campaign or afterward as a paid agent for foreign powers, such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, to influence U.S. policy. Barrack told the Times he was interviewed “at his request” by investigators in the probe.
He denies that he has been paid to lobby for foreign governments, though the Times noted:
"Between Mr. Trump’s nomination and the end of June, Colony Capital, Mr. Barrack’s real estate investment and private equity firm, received about $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates through investments or other transactions like asset sales, Mr. Barrack’s aides said."
The report also documented suspicious email exchanges with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair who has been convicted of violating FARA while acting as an agent of Ukraine. The exchanges seem to suggest that Manafort and Barrack were trying to influence Trump’s campaign to adopt positions favored by Middle East leaders.
For example, the Times reported:
'Are you running this by our friends?' Mr. Manafort asked in a previously undisclosed email to Mr. Barrack, whose real estate and investment firm does extensive business in the Middle East.
Mr. Barrack was, in fact, coordinating the language in a draft of the speech with Persian Gulf contacts including Rashid al-Malik, an Emirati businessman who is close to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates."
The report noted that Barrack didn’t seem to get what he wanted in this instance, but it didn’t end there:
"In the end, to Mr. Barrack’s disappointment, Mr. Trump made only a passing reference to the need to work with 'gulf allies' on 'a positive energy relationship as part of our antiterrorism strategy.' A few days later, Mr. Manafort emailed Mr. Barrack that 'on the platform issue there is another chance to make our gulf friends happy.' He was referring to language in the Republican Party platform to be approved at the convention where Mr. Trump would formally become the nominee."
While these payments and exchanges may look suspicious, the Times noted that actually proving guilt in FARA cases can be quite difficult.
Barrack ended up managing Trump’s inauguration, which is also reportedly under investigation for potentially criminal foreign influence. Separately, the Miami Herald has reported the federal investigators are reviewing the conduct of Republic donor Li “Cindy” Yang “to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws.”