USC Trustee and former Trump advisor Thomas Barrack indicted

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USC Trustee Thomas Barrack was indicted Tuesday with federal charges, including illegal foreign lobbying and making false statements to the FBI. The United States Department of Justice indictment alleges that Barrack and two other men acted as agents for the United Arab Emirates to influence foreign policy in a 2016 United States presidential candidate’s campaign and the candidate’s subsequent administration. (Beth Mosch | Daily Trojan)

Thomas Barrack, USC Trustee and former advisor to former President Donald Trump, was arrested Tuesday on federal charges alleging he used his prominence in the Trump campaign and White House to shape foreign policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates. Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements in a 2019 FBI interview, according to a United States Department of Justice press release.

Barrack, who graduated from USC in 1969 with a degree in sociology and later attended the Gould School of Law, has been a member of the USC Board of Trustees since June 2012. In 2014, he donated $15 million to the Marshall School of Business for the renovation and renaming of Barrack Hall. 

In the seven-count indictment filed Friday, Barrack and two other men — Matthew Grimes, who works under Barrack at a global investment firm, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE national — are accused of conspiring as UAE agents between April 2016 and April 2018. According to the court document, UAE officials “tasked” the men to influence foreign policy positions in a 2016 United States presidential candidate’s campaign and in their subsequent administration.  

The indictment also alleges Barrack and his colleagues “[developed] a backchannel line of communication” between the campaign and U.S. government officials and advanced the UAE’s foreign policy agendas and political influence.  

“The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in the press release. “Through this indictment, we are putting everyone — regardless of their wealth or perceived political power — on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.” 

Between April and November 2016, Barrack worked as an informal advisor to the Trump campaign and as chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee between November 2016 and January 2017. Following Trump’s inauguration, Barrack served as an informal senior advisor to U.S. government officials on foreign policy issues related to the Middle East. 

According to the indictment, Emirati officials assigned Barrack to “influence public opinion in favor of UAE interests.” In one instance, Barrack emailed Alshahhi a speech draft on U.S. energy policy that then-presidential candidate Trump was scheduled to give. Alshahhi responded to Barrack with proposed edits to the speech that would praise an Emirati official by name, according to court documents. Barrack made the edits, and after the speech, another Emirati official emailed Barrack that “everybody here [is] happy with the results.” 

Barrack also completed various media appearances and published an op-ed in the Fortune Magazine that commended the foreign government’s “brilliant young leaders,” and included U.S.-Middle East foreign policy talking points from Emirati officials. 

Following Trump’s election, Barrack, Grimes and Alshahhi continued to correspond with UAE government officials on advancing UAE’s “foreign policy interests,” including creating a “wish list” of U.S. foreign policy agendas to be completed during the four years of the President-elect’s administration. The defendants also promoted the appointment of an individual favored by the foreign government’s senior officials to U.S. Ambassador of the UAE. 

Since the beginning of Barrack and Grimes’ correspondence with the UAE, the defendants also utilized an encrypted messaging system to communicate with senior Emirati officials.  

A previous Los Angeles Times report also alleged Barrack’s connection to the admission of Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani into USC, a prince of Qatar. After Al Thani’s denied admission to UCLA and his family’s alleged suggestion that a “substantial donation” would be made to USC if he were admitted, Barrack reportedly set up a meeting between former USC President C.L Max Nikias and Al Thani’s mother. 

Al Thani subsequently began school at USC, and the Qatar Foundation — a state-sponsored organization in Qatar founded by Al Thani’s father — donated to USC’s “marine research center on Catalina Island,” according to the report. However, Nikias said that Al Thani had already been accepted at the time of the meeting, and the Qatar Foundation said that donations to the school were never discussed during the visit.

Barrack was also connected to the presidential pardon of Miami developer Robert Zangrillo, one of the 11 USC parents charged in the Operation Varsity Blues investigation. The White House news release, which included 73 pardons and 70 commuted sentences, stated that Barrack supported Zangrillo’s pardon. A Barrack spokesperson denied the trustee’s connection to the pardon in a January email to the Daily Trojan.  

Scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday afternoon, a representative of Barrack stated he will plead not guilty, according to the LA Times. 

In a statement to the Daily Trojan Wednesday, the USC Board of Trustees wrote that Barrack stepped down from his position. 

“Tom Barrack has voluntarily resigned from the USC Board of Trustees effective immediately,” the statement read. 

The story was updated to reflect Thomas Barrack’s resignation from the USC Board of Trustees.