On Tuesday, Barrack became the latest member of the effort to elect Trump president to be arrested on federal criminal charges.
Centered on unregistered lobbying activity, the charges aren’t particularly surprising. Questions about Barrack’s interactions with interests in the United Arab Emirates emerged two years ago. By late 2019, ProPublica obtained messages strongly suggesting that Barrack had used his position with the campaign to advance the interests of foreign governments. The indictment made public this week centered on that alleged effort and an alleged attempt by Barrack to mislead investigators about the relationship.
Barrack is linked to any number of other former campaign or Republican Party officials who have similarly faced criminal investigation or arrest. For example, it was Barrack who served as the point of entry for Paul Manafort to join Trump’s campaign. Manafort went on to serve as campaign manager, in the process passing proprietary polling data to a colleague connected to Russian intelligence and eventually being indicted on wide range of charges from money laundering to lying to investigators to conspiracy to — like Barrack — failing to register as a foreign agent. After being convicted on a number of financial charges, Manafort took a federal plea agreement and went to prison. After Trump lost the 2020 election, he pardoned Manafort.
Manafort was hired only after Trump conferred with his longtime political adviser Roger Stone. (Stone and Manafort had worked together at a lobbying firm for years.) Stone, too, was eventually pardoned by Trump after being convicted on charges of obstruction of justice related to the Russia probe.
At the inaugural committee, Barrack’s second-in-command was Rick Gates, a longtime Manafort colleague who also served as deputy campaign chairman for Trump during 2016. Gates faced a number of the same charges as Manafort before opting to cooperate with investigators probing Russian interference.
Barrack was also rumored to be in the running to replace casino magnate Steve Wynn as finance chairman of the Republican Party after Wynn resigned in 2018. Wynn’s resignation stemmed from his being implicated in allegations of sexual assault during the height of the #MeToo movement. (The job eventually went to Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.) But the finance team unveiled by Wynn and the RNC in 2017 included several other Trump allies who would soon make headlines. Among them:
- Michael Cohen, then Trump’s attorney. He would eventually plead guilty to financial charges and to violating federal fundraising laws in making payoffs to women who alleged sexual relationships with Trump.
- Elliott Broidy, a Trump ally who pleaded guilty to accepting millions of dollars to lobby the Trump administration without registering as a foreign agent.
- Louis DeJoy, now postmaster general after being appointed by Trump. DeJoy is under investigation by the FBI for his past fundraising activity.
- Gordon Sondland, who Trump nominated to serve as ambassador to the European Union. Sondland was a central figure in Trump’s first impeachment.
The inaugural committee itself has been the subject of an ongoing investigation, with the D.C. attorney general in January alleging improper payments by the committee. Other members of the campaign have also come under scrutiny for improper foreign lobbying, including Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani. A firm run by former Trump campaign adviser and eventual national security adviser Michael Flynn did advocacy work on behalf of Turkey, leading to the eventual conviction of one of Flynn’s colleagues at the firm. That conviction was overturned, but Flynn was implicated in the Russia investigation after admitting to misleading federal officials during an early 2017 interview. Investigators probing Russian interference also arrested campaign adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to them; he served a brief term in prison. Flynn and Papadopoulos were also both pardoned by Trump.
So was Stephen K. Bannon, who joined the Trump campaign after Manafort resigned in August 2016. Bannon was indicted on fraud charges related to his effort to raise money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump pardoned him before the case went to trial. Other Trumpworld figures like his son Donald Trump Jr. only narrowly escaped indictment (special counsel Robert S. Mueller III thought the younger Trump’s ability to claim ignorance of campaign finance laws would prevent a conviction) or were indicted outside of the context of politics. (Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg was charged earlier this month.)
The steady drip of charges and the slow transition from news reports to indictments make it easy to lose a sense of the scale of alleged wrongdoing here. Even just the subset containing Barrack is remarkable: Multiple senior figures in Trump’s orbit have faced criminal charges of working with foreign powers to influence his presidency.
Trump generally casts this as a witch hunt. Perhaps, but it also seems to be the case that he socialized with a lot of witches.