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Political Notebook

Trump inaugural committee head accused of being UAE agent

Tom Barrack.
Tom Barrack.Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

LOS ANGELES — The chairman of former president Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested Tuesday on charges alleging he conspired to influence Trump’s foreign policy positions to benefit the United Arab Emirates and commit crimes striking at what prosecutors described as “the very heart of our democracy.”

Tom Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica, Calif., was among three men charged in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., with conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent as they tried to influence foreign policy while Trump was running in 2016 and later while he was president.

Besides conspiracy, Barrack was charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal agents. Also charged in a seven-count indictment were Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colo., and Rashid al Malik, 43, of the United Arab Emirates.

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“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances," Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said in a release.

Prosecutors said Barrack not only agreed to promote UAE foreign policy interests through his unique access and influence, but also provided UAE government officials with sensitive information about developments within the Trump administration — including how senior US officials felt about the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.

“Worse, in his communications with Al Malik, the defendant framed his efforts to obtain an official position within the Administration as one that would enable him to further advance the interests of the UAE, rather than the interests of the United States,” prosecutors wrote in a letter seeking his detention.

Authorities said Barrack served as an informal adviser to Trump’s campaign from April 2016 to November 2016 and chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee from November 2016 to January 2017. Beginning in January 2017, he informally advised senior US government officials on Middle East foreign policy, they added.

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Authorities cited several specific instances when Barrack or others allegedly sought to influence US policies, noting that, in May 2016, Barrack inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech Trump delivered about US energy policy and e-mailed an advance draft of the speech to be delivered to senior UAE officials.

They said that after one appearance in which Barrack repeatedly praised the United Arab Emirates, Barrack e-mailed al Malik, saying: “I nailed it. . . for the home team,” referring to the UAE.

Phone and e-mail messages sent to the UAE Embassy in Washington were not immediately returned.

Barrack will plead not guilty, according to a spokesman.

“Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” the spokesman said.

Barrack appeared at an initial appearance in federal court in Los Angeles, where prosecutors were to ask a US magistrate judge to bring him to New York.

Noting that Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion in March 2013 and his access to a private plane, prosecutors called him “an extremely wealthy and powerful individual with substantial ties to Lebanon, the UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” who poses a serious flight risk in a letter filed prior to his appearance.

They said the evidence against him was “overwhelming” and his risk of fleeing was higher because he’d traveled extensively, taking more than 75 international trips in the last five years.

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In his statement, Lesko characterized the alleged conduct as “nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President.”

Barrack is the latest in a long line of Trump associates to face criminal charges, including his former campaign chair, his former deputy campaign chair, his former chief strategist, his former national security adviser, his former personal lawyer and his company’s longtime chief financial officer.

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House panel investigating pandemic evictions

WASHINGTON — A House panel is pressing four corporate landlords to explain why 5,000 renters were allegedly forced out during the pandemic while a federal eviction moratorium was in place.

As part of its investigation into pandemic evictions, the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis called on Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners, Ventron Management, and The Siegel Group to provide documentation about their eviction practices, according to letters dated Monday and signed by Representative James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the panel’s chairman.

Some of these companies ’'refused to accept rental assistance funds’' as an alternative to eviction, the letters state, while others have accepted funds and moved to evict families anyway. As a result, such practices have had a ’'substantial negative impact’' on struggling American families.

Ventron Management moved to evict more than a quarter of its 8,000 tenants during the pandemic, the letter said. The Siegel Group, meanwhile, has repeatedly ’'challenged’' whether the eviction moratorium applies to its tenants and has ’'rapidly’' increased its eviction filings for reasons not related to payment of rent.

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Dallas-based Invitation Homes saw its profits soar 30 percent in 2020 ’'while continuing to benefit from federally supported financing’' that allowed the company to expand its stock of rental units, Clyburn wrote, but the company nonetheless moved to evict scores of tenants, including many who had been approved for federal rental assistance.

Pretium Partners, Ventron Management, The Siegel Group, and Invitation Homes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Housing has emerged as one of the most unequal features of the economic recovery. On one end, rising rents and the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium on July 31 pose further harm to some of the nation’s most vulnerable households. On the other end, a hot housing market has sent home prices skyrocketing, as wealthier Americans take advantage of low mortgage rates and a booming stock market to scoop up the relatively few homes available.

Roughly 11.5 million Americans were behind on rent as of late June, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Black and Latino renters have faced the greatest threat of eviction in the pandemic, according to research from Harvard University. But Black renters faced dramatically higher eviction filing rates than White renters even before the pandemic, according to research from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

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WASHINGTON POST

Fauci, Paul spar over Chinese lab research funding

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, angrily confronted Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul on Tuesday in testimony on Capitol Hill, rejecting Paul’s insinuation that the United States helped fund research at a Chinese lab that could have sparked the COVID-19 outbreak.

Paul suggested that Fauci had lied before Congress when in May he denied that the National Institutes of Health funded so-called “gain of function” research — the practice of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential impact in the real world — at a Wuhan virology lab. US intelligence agencies are currently exploring theories that an accidental leak from that lab could have led to the global pandemic.

“I have not lied before Congress. I have never lied. Certainly not before Congress. Case closed,” Fauci told Paul before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, saying a study the senator mentioned referenced a different sort of virus entirely from the one responsible for the coronavirus outbreak.

“Senator Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci said. ’'And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you’re talking about.”

He added, “If anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.”

It was the latest in a series of clashes between Paul and Fauci over the origins of the virus that caused the global pandemic.

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