NEW YORK (AP) — Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified Thursday that there was nothing suspicious about his interactions with a Donald Trump ally who is on trial for allegedly leaking classified information to the United Arab Emirates.
Tom Barrack, the former chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, was accused of using his “unique approach” as a longtime friend of Trump to manipulate the Trump campaign – and later his Republican administration – to advance UAE interests. Prosecutors say that while UAE officials were associating with Barrack, they rewarded him by investing millions of dollars in his business ventures.
Mnuchin, during brief testimony as a defense witness in federal court in Brooklyn, described Barrack as a friend who was among hundreds of business people who offered him “thoughts and advice” while serving in the Cabinet. In those discussions, “I would never share anything … that I thought was confidential,” he testified.
The defense sought to use Mnuchin to show that Barack was not always in step with the UAE. He said Barack arranged a meeting with him to express his opposition to the UAE-led blockade of neighboring Qatar – a move initially supported by Trump.
“He asked me to convey those views to the president,” Mnuchin said. “I was just listening to him.”
Mnuchin declined to say whether he had said anything about it to Trump, arguing that “my internal discussions with the White House would be sensitive and covered by executive privilege.”
Before Mnuchin’s court appearance, prosecutors questioned whether he could testify impartially on matters involving the UAE and Saudi Arabia, since his private equity fund has a large financial stake in the region.
Barack, 75, has pleaded not guilty to acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and making false statements. His lawyers denied he had done anything fraudulent.
Mnuchin was the second former member of Trump’s cabinet to take the witness stand. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified this month for the government that he was in the dark about Barrack’s dealings with Trump and the Emirates.
Within the Trump administration, Mnuchin promoted Saudi Arabia as a reliable US ally in the Middle East, even meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in 2018 when the prince faced international criticism over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom. consulate in Istanbul.
Mnuchin left court Thursday without speaking to reporters.
The government rested its foreign influence case on Wednesday. Much of the evidence focused on emails and other communications between Barrack and his high-level contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors say the communications show how Barack and his foreign contacts strategized how to win over Trump.
Before he was indicted, Barack gained attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inauguration celebration after the 2016 election. The event was scrutinized both for lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businessmen looking to lobby the new administration.