Trump pal and billionaire advisor Tom Barrack got arrested yesterday, and it wasn't for the reasons everyone expected. Barrack, who served as chairman of Trump's inaugural committee, is under investigation for how those funds were used. So these FARA charges were a shock. The obstruction of justice charge? Seems like every Trump crony lied with impunity, so that's not exactly an eye-opener. Now we wait to see if these charges are meant to soften him up and get him to cooperate:
"This is a serious and somewhat unusual indictment," former federal prosecutor Elie Honig told CNN's John Avlon.
"Federal prosecutors have charged Tom Barrack with two types of crimes, first of all, a violation of the Foreign Agent's Registration Act, sometimes called FARA. That has three parts to it. First of all, that Barrack was lobbying the former president Donald Trump. Second of all, that Barrack was doing that lobbying on behalf of a foreign agent or a foreign country, here that's the United Arab Emirates or UAE and third, that Barrack was doing all of that without registering as a foreign agent.
"Now, this is an unusual charge. We have only seen it charged about 20 or 10 times in the last 50 years. However, it's being charged increasingly by the Justice Department because the idea is if somebody is lobbying our government, influencing our foreign policy, our national policy, and they're secretly working for another country, we need to know that. And if we don't know that, that's a national security risk. Also, prosecutors have charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and making false statements because when he spoke to the FBI, he falsely denied his lobbying activity."
Avlon observed that FARA is not usually charged. "Based on the indictment, how strong is the evidence here?"
"This appears to be a very strong case. This indictment goes into substantial detail and much of the evidence here comes from emails and texts that Barrack himself sent. Now, the indictment alleges, first, that the setup was that Barrack would be the only channel to the candidate for the UAE. The candidate here, that's Donald Trump when he was a candidate in 2016. This conduct began when Trump was a candidate, continued into when he was president," Honig said.
"The indictment also alleges that Barrack lobbied the U.S. government, at times successfully, and even at times got specific language included in Donald Trump's policy speeches. And in one memorable instance, the indictment quotes an email that Barrack sent after a successful bit of lobbying where Barrack bragged, quote, 'I nailed it for the home team.'
"Now, it is not necessarily a crime just to lobby for a foreign country. It's a crime if you don't disclose it. There's a very simple form that you have to fill out if you're a foreign lobbyist, which of course Barrack did not fill out. That's where the risk comes in."