On July 20, 2021, Tom Barrack, former Trump campaign adviser and chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, was arrested and charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that Barrack and two associates acted as agents of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between April 2016 and April 2018 without having registered as foreign agents.
FARA is a disclosure statute designed to promote transparency in the U.S. political, media, and public relations arenas, among others, with respect to foreign influence. Generally, FARA requires every “agent of a foreign principal” engaging in certain political or quasi-political activities in the U.S. to register as such with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and to periodically – and publicly – disclose certain details of that agency relationship with the foreign principal.
The indictment alleges that in 2016, Barrack presented himself to senior UAE officials as a key channel to the Trump campaign. Barrack is accused of then lobbying on behalf of the UAE to influence the Trump campaign and the subsequent Trump Administration and to influence U.S. public opinion in favor of UAE interests. According to the indictment, Barrack was acting at the direction of senior UAE officials when he inserted pro-UAE language into a campaign speech, advanced UAE interests in media appearances, and in an opinion article, promoted a candidate for U.S. ambassador that was favorable to the UAE and assisted the UAE in its dealings with the U.S. executive branch.
Barrack is also accused of obstructing justice and making false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal law enforcement agents, in which he stated that the UAE did not request his assistance and that he had no role in facilitating communication between the UAE and the U.S. government.
This latest indictment follows an increasing trend in prosecutions for FARA violations, underscoring the fact that heightened FARA enforcement remains a top priority for DOJ under the Biden Administration and will likely remain so well into the foreseeable future. As a result, it is important to ensure that individuals and organizations representing foreign persons in a quasi-political capacity (e.g., public relations, lobbying, etc.) remain diligent in ensuring compliance with all FARA reporting and registration requirements, and when in doubt seek counsel.