Steve Mnuchin testifies on behalf of Trump ally at NYC trial

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Former United States Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, center, leaves the Brooklyn Federal Court on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

NEW YORK – Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified Thursday that there was nothing suspicious about his interactions with a Donald Trump ally who is being tried on allegations that he secretly fed confidential information to the United Arab Emirates.

Tom Barrack, the onetime chair of the Trump's inaugural committee, is accused of using his “unique access” as a longtime friend of Trump to manipulate Trump's campaign — and later his Republican administration — to advance the interests of the UAE. Prosecutors say that while UAE officials were consorting with Barrack, they were rewarding him by pouring millions of dollars into his business ventures.

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Mnuchin, during brief testimony as a defense witness in federal court in Brooklyn, described Barrack as a friend who was among hundreds of businesspeople offering him "thoughts and advice” while he served 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 demonstrate Barrack wasn't always in lockstep with the UAE. He recounted how Barrack set up a meeting with him to voice his opposition to a UAE-led blockade of neighboring Qatar — a move initially supported by Trump.

“He asked me to pass those views on to the president,” Mnuchin said. “I merely listened to him.”

Mnuchin declined to disclose whether he said anything about it to Trump, claiming, “My internal discussions with the White House would be sensitive and covered by executive privilege.”

Before Mnuchin's court appearance, prosecutors had raised questions about whether he could testify impartially about issues involving the UAE and Saudi Arabia, since his private equity fund has a large financial stake in the region.

Barrack, 75, has pleaded not guilty to acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice and making false statements. His lawyers have denied he did anything underhanded.

Mnuchin was the second ex-Trump Cabinet member 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 trusted U.S. ally in the Middle East, even meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in 2018 when the prince was facing international criticism over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Mnuchin left court Thursday without speaking to reporters.

The government rested its foreign influence case Wednesday. Much of the evidence focused on emails and other back-channel communications between Barrack and his high-level contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors say those communications show how Barrack and his foreign contacts strategized over how to win over Trump.

Before being indicted, Barrack drew attention by raising $107 million for the former president’s inaugural celebration following the 2016 election. The event was scrutinized both for its lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businesspeople looking to lobby the new administration.

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