December 3, 2022

Barak testifies that he asked Trump to use Khashoggi's murder to end the blockade of Qatar

Barak testifies that he asked Trump to use Khashoggi’s murder to end the blockade of Qatar

By Luke Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tom Barrack, who once worked as a fundraiser for Donald Trump, testified Thursday at his trial for being an illegal foreign agent, urging the then-president to use the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “as leverage.” End its blockade of Qatar.

Barrack’s testimony that he defended Qatar’s interests could undermine accusations by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn that he acted as an agent for the United Arab Emirates – one of the countries that implemented the blockade – without informing the US attorney general, as required by law. .

Barak, 75, is not accused of working as a Saudi agent, but the country is close to the UAE. He has pleaded not guilty, and argues that his interactions with officials in the Middle East were part of his role running the private equity firm Colony Capital, now known as DigitalBridge Group Inc.

On Thursday, the fourth day of his testimony in his self-defense, Barak said that during an October 2018 phone call with Trump – following Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Turkey – he urged the then-president to use global outrage over the killing to “lift this foolish siege.”

US intelligence says the killing of Khashoggi, an insider-turned-critic Saudi, had the approval of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler. The prince denied ordering the killing but admitted it was “under my tutelage”.

The blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others began in 2017. Prosecutors say that during the blockade, Barak Rashid told the king — a colleague also accused of being an Emirati agent — that the United States was considering hosting a summit to resolve it. dispute. Prosecutors say the king, who was at large, told Emirati officials about the potential meeting.

Related video: Tom Barrack in hot water over Khashoggi’s comments

Barak said he spoke to Qatar’s ambassador to the US as well as its foreign minister in June 2017. This came after Trump tweeted his support for the blockade of the Gulf state.

Barrack said he then persuaded Trump administration officials to speak with their Qatari counterparts, and eventually spoke directly with Trump to encourage him to host a summit at the Camp David presidential retreat to resolve the dispute involving US allies.

“I told him again from the cheap seats… he should send his team and conclude that to force Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to sit at the negotiating table,” Barak said. He denied informing the owner of the summit’s plans.

careful interrogation

Barak said in 2019 at a conference in Abu Dhabi that criticizing the kingdom over the killing was a “mistake.” I apologize later for the comments.

On the podium on Thursday, he said he should have prefaced the comments by saying that taking lives anywhere is unacceptable, but that he “hesitated” at the conference due to the lack of freedom of expression in the UAE.

Prosecutors are expected to ask Barak more about the comments when they begin questioning him later on Thursday.

(Reporting by Luke Cohen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Otis)