Former President Donald Trump or members of his administration could be called as witnesses in the trial of Thomas Barrack, a billionaire friend of Trump accused of unlawfully lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, a federal judge said Tuesday.
On Monday and Tuesday, Judge Brian Cogan repeatedly asked potential jurors who had indicated they had strong opinions of Trump if they could be impartial if he were called as a witness.
“It’s possible in this case that maybe former President Trump, maybe someone from his administration, might be called as a witness,” Cogan told one possible juror Tuesday.
Potential jurors in Barrack’s trial have all filled out forms that include questions about their opinions of Trump and others in his orbit, such as former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
The judge’s references to Trump do not definitively mean he will be called, but Cogan said several times on Monday and Tuesday that he could.
A spokesperson for the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn declined to comment, as did attorneys for Barrack. Attorneys for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
The case centers on allegations that Barrack traded on his friendship and access to Trump to benefit the UAE government.
Federal prosecutors say from 2016 to 2018, while Barrack was serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign and administration, and as chair of the presidential inaugural committee, he sought to advance a UAE “wish list” of foreign policy positions. The indictment cites communications in which Rashid Al Malik, an Emirati citizen then living in California, allegedly texted Barrack proposed language for a speech sent by a UAE official. Prosecutors also noted Barrack emailed Al Malik about a TV interview he had done.
in July 2021 with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the UAE, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI about his dealings.
Barrack, who at the time was executive chairman of investment firm Colony Capital, has entered not guilty pleas to the charges. The company is now known as DigitalBridge. An employee, Matthew Grimes, enteredto charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Al Malik, who was also charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, has not been located by law enforcement.
Prosecutors cited text messages and emails between Barrack, Grimes and Al Malik that they say show Barrack’s efforts to influence the administration.
Barrack’s attorneys have said his communications with UAE officials were related to the company. And they said Trump and the U.S. State Department were aware of Barrack’s international business relationships.
Opening statements in Barrack’s case are expected to begin Wednesday.
The trial comes as Trump and many of his allies are at the center of a swirl of legal scrutiny. In another courtroom in the same building where jurors were questioned Tuesday, lawyers for Trump met with a special master appointed to oversee the government’s handling of documents seized from Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago.
Barrack’s trial is expected to last between four and five weeks, according to Cogan. In late October, when the trial may be nearing its end, a different jury is scheduled to begin meeting in a courthouse just across the Brooklyn Bridge, to consider criminal fraud and tax evasion charges against the The Trump Organization.
The judge in that case is also presiding over state criminal proceedings against Bannon, who entered not guilty pleas Sept. 8 to charges of money laundering, conspiracy and a scheme to defraud.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the investigations into him and his companies, denying all allegations and calling them a “witch hunt.”
Clare Hymes contributed reporting for this story.