Could the Barrack Trial Be in Part to Blame for the Cut in Saudi Oil Production? It Certainly isn’t Helping.
Dispatches from the Tom Barrack trial
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Yesterday, something happened very far away from the trial of Tom Barrack that is completely related to it.
MBZ, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, met with Vladimir Putin. MBZ has made no secret of the fact that he’s livid that this trial is going on—because it makes the Emiratis look as if they are in fact on trial, too. As for the Emiratis’ closest allies, the Saudis? (MBS, the Saudi crown prince, has popped up quite a bit in the trial in a not-especially-flattering light.) MBS has also turned to Putin and essentially given the finger to the Biden administration by raising the price of oil right ahead of the midterms.
Is the Barrack trial worth all this?
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on May 15, 2022. (Photo by CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
I learned yesterday that a couple of people who were questioned by the government lawyers in the past year or so (but who will not be appearing on the stand) left those interviews extremely puzzled and wondering if the government had any kind of case. Those people have watched the proceedings unfold with increasing skepticism.
At this point—week four of the trial—government lawyers are now reading the parts of Barrack, Grimes, and the absentee indicted Emirati Rashid Al Malik in their text communications—and, wow, is it sleep-inducing! There are conversations about phone calls with “our friends” who have acronyms like “HH” and “HE”; wishful thinking about a Marshall Plan in the Middle East; Tom Barrack’s requirements for a Starbucks coffee as he gets on his private plane…as well as the wild suggestion (posited by an Emirati) that Barrack could have been Trump’s secretary of state, but he’d rather make $130 billion…
What’s needed here are scenes. At least in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial (which you’ll recall I covered), because of the vivid, detailed, appalling eye-witness testimony of the four government witnesses who were survivors, if you were in that court room, you felt, chillingly that you, too, were inside Jeffrey Epstein’s den of evil while the terrifying abuse of children occurred. You could not help but be gripped and moved in the most awful way. It was if you were somehow involved in the worst kind of horror movie.
The Barrack trial, on the other hand, is, to put it bluntly, boring. It is essentially a trial about two Americans (Barrack and his young aide, Matthew Grimes) allegedly acting as agents for a foreign, Arab state. I can imagine how captivated the jury (and me, reading the court transcripts each night) would be if, for example, witnesses described car chases in the desert, men hiding behind bushes in lavish palace gardens, someone perhaps disguised in robes… I’m making this all up, of course. But you get the point. What’s needed to make all this seem meaningful is a tangible scene.
Instead, the closest we’ve gotten to any real drama, as far as I can see, is a couple of Emiratis being thrown into complete pandemonium when invited to Barrack’s New York home during the Trump transition for a party with a then-glittering power list of people such as Trump and Melania, Ivanka and Jared, Steve Mnuchin, Steve Wynn, David Geffen, the late Sheldon Adelson, and the actor Rob Lowe. The issue that causes the panic is that the dress code is black tie. “What is a tuxedo?” one of the men asks in a text message exchange read aloud for the jury. It is followed by messages about how you can rent them or else drop a small fortune to buy one at Canali.
As I read this in the court transcript, I thought: Is this the kind of government investigation that merits dropping millions of our tax dollars? On conversations about how to rent or buy a tux? And also: You can see why MBZ, a highly sophisticated intellectual, might find this sort of thing humiliating and offensive.
Meanwhile, the trial is dragging on and on. There was concern expressed last week at a sidebar with the judge that, if it doesn’t start to gather steam, the jury will “revolt”—and honestly, who could blame them? The Tillerson testimony was a head-scratcher, as I’ve already written. Why would you call a former secretary of state who can barely remember the guy on trial and who claims he has absolutely no knowledge of the issues that man is on trial for?
We shall see. I learned in the Maxwell trial that you never want to write off government prosecutors before you’ve seen the whole jigsaw puzzle put together.
But there are lot of career diplomats and former senior Trump officials I’ve spoken to who are also deeply puzzled by what’s going on. Remember: The government didn’t choose accuse Barrack of simply breaking FARA laws. Those are about people who represent foreign interests and don’t disclose it. They’ve gone and step further and accused him of something harder to prove—something known by national security officials as “espionage lite”—namely acting as foreign agents without notifying the Justice Department, a breach of what’s called Section 951. The standard for that, as the lawyers discussed in a sidebar yesterday, is that the government has to prove Barrack et al were under the “direction or control” of the Emiratis.
It's a very high bar.
There’s a lot more at stake here than the fates of Tom Barrack and his Starbucks-buying aide, Matthew Grimes.
If the government prosecutors lose this, it will not just look very bad for them. There are geopolitical repercussions it may be hard to fix. And there may be a meaningful price to pay by the Democrats in Washington, DC.