Pres­i­dent Trump’s loyal whis­perer

‘He’s bet­ter than this,’ says Thomas Bar­rack, an old friend shap­ing pol­icy


Thomas J. Bar­rack Jr., a bil­lion­aire who is one of Pres­i­dent Trump’s old­est friends, had spent weeks try­ing to smooth the way for a May pres­i­den­tial meet­ing in Saudi Ara­bia with Arab lead­ers of the Per­sian Gulf.

All ini­tially went well. Trump praised Qatar — where Bar­rack, who is Arab Amer­i­can, has deep busi­ness ties — as a “cru­cial strate­gic part­ner.” Then Trump re­versed course a few weeks later and at­tacked Qatar as “a fun­der of ter­ror­ism at a very high level.”

Bar­rack was taken aback that the pres­i­dent was in­ter­ven­ing in a regional dis­pute. So he did what few oth­ers in Trump’s or­bit have done: He told the pres­i­dent, in ef­fect, that he was wrong.

“You don’t need to get in­volved,” Bar­rack said he told Trump. The pres­i­dent heeded his friend’s ad­vice, met with the emir of Qatar and in Septem­ber of­fered to me­di­ate.

Few peo­ple are closer to Trump than Bar­rack, his friend for three decades. Bar­rack helped res­cue Trump’s real es­tate em­pire years ago. He was the top fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. He turned down a Cab­i­net of­fer, pre­fer­ring to be an out­side ad­viser, al­though his name is still men­tioned as a po­ten­tial White House chief of staff should Trump de­cide to choose a new one.

Above all, Bar­rack has re­mained un­fail­ingly loyal to Trump, whom he sees as a shrewd politi­cian.

But even as he re­mained a close friend and fre­quent con­fi­dant, Bar­rack has also been dis­ap­pointed by as­pects of Trump’s per­for­mance.

Bar­rack, in in­ter­views with The Washington Post, said he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by some of the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric and in­flam­ma­tory tweets. He dis­agrees with some of Trump’s pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing his ef­forts to ban im­mi­grants from cer­tain Mus­lim coun­tries and his push for a bor­der wall with Mex­ico. He won­ders why his long­time friend spends so much of his time ap­peal­ing to the fringes of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“He thinks he has to be loyal to his base,” Bar­rack said. “I keep on say­ing, ‘But who is your base? You don’t have a nat­u­ral base. Your base now is the world and Amer­ica, so you have all these con­stituen­cies; show them who you re­ally are.’ In my opin­ion, he’s bet­ter than this.”

“I tell him all the time: I don’t like the rhetoric,” Bar­rack, who runs a large real es­tate in­vest­ment com­pany, said at his Man­hat­tan of­fice.

Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with Bar­rack is one of the most im­por­tant, if lit­tle un­der­stood, of the pres­i­dent’s life, of­fer­ing a case study of what it takes to re­main close to him in a time of such tur­moil.

The men have struck a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial deal. Trump so­lic­its Bar­rack’s ad­vice reg­u­larly, ask­ing how his ac­tions are play­ing with the pub­lic. Bar­rack lis­tens def­er­en­tially, ad­vises Trump to change course with­out fear of ret­ri­bu­tion, and re­tains a bond that has out­lasted Trump’s many per­sonal and fi­nan­cial crises.

Bar­rack said he has of­ten thought about how he has re­mained a close friend for 30 years with a man whose “rep­u­ta­tion is self­ish and ego­tis­ti­cal. Here’s what I think the an­swer is: I’ve never needed any­thing from him. . . . I was al­ways sub­servient to him.”

Bar­rack said that his life in­ter­sected with Trump “at soft mo­ments,” such as dis­cus­sions about their di­vorces and chil­dren. He was at Trump’s side dur­ing the funeral of Trump’s father, Fred, and they talked for a half-hour about “the weight of a hard dad and the ba­ton pass­ing.” As a re­sult, Bar­rack said, he has seen within Trump “a kind of com­pas­sion at a very lonely level.”

Out of that has de­vel­oped a most un­usual bond, which in turn has en­abled Bar­rack to talk to Trump “straight up,” telling him when he dis­agrees. That has been sur­pris­ingly of­ten.

“It is not al­ways fun, and, no, he doesn’t come back and say, ‘By the way, your idea was right or bril­liant,’ ” Bar­rack said.

But Bar­rack can’t be fired, even if his ad­vice doesn’t pan out, as has hap­pened.

It was Bar­rack who per­suaded Trump to hire po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive Paul Manafort — whom Bar­rack first met in Beirut 40 years ago — for the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Trump never pub­licly crit­i­cized Bar­rack for the ad­vice, even as Manafort came un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III in a probe ex­am­in­ing whether the cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sia.

The 70-year-old Bar­rack, who trav­els the world by pri­vate jet and yacht, speaks in a mea­sured ca­dence with a diplo­matic tone. He says he al­ways couches his ad­vice to Trump in an un­der­stand­ing way. Oth­ers said that Bar­rack has mas­tered the art of stroking Trump’s ego. Ei­ther way, the two usu­ally talk at least once a week.

Bar­rack be­lieves that Trump suf­fers by hav­ing too many “yes men” around him. The con­clu­sion is sur­pris­ing, given Trump’s pen­chant for at­tack­ing any­one who dis­agrees with him.

“No, he is very good at be­ing told he is wrong,” Bar­rack in­sisted when pressed on this point. “Peo­ple don’t have the courage to do it. He pushes back hard, but the peo­ple he re­spects the most are the peo­ple who have the most re­fined and not wimpy point of view.”

As Bar­rack’s blunt­ness and close­ness to the pres­i­dent have be­come bet­ter known, he is sought as a con­duit to Trump for sen­si­tive con­ver­sa­tions. “I’ve talked to him about things that I’ve thought he would be a good per­son to talk to the pres­i­dent about,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who got to know Bar­rack through their work on the 2017 Pres­i­den­tial In­au­gu­ral Com­mit­tee. “Tom Bar­rack has a ca­pac­ity to dis­agree that oth­ers might not have.”

For ex­am­ple, Blunt said he thought Bar­rack “was the best per­son to ex­plain to the pres­i­dent that the chal­lenges he is fac­ing aren’t unique.”

Bar­rack said Trump lis­tens to his and other views, “cu­rates” them and some­times tells him: “I love you, but if I lis­tened to you, I’d still be on ‘ The Ap­pren­tice.’ ”

Trump was born into wealth, but Bar­rack’s up­bring­ing hardly pre­saged that he would be­come a fel­low bil­lion­aire. His pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was a Chris­tian émi­gré from a city called Zahleh that at the time was part of Syria and to­day is within the bor­ders of Le­banon. Bar­rack’s father ran a small gro­cery store in Cul­ver City, Calif., and the fam­ily was raised in a mod­est home in the shadow of MGM Stu­dios.

Bar­rack be­came a lawyer, and his abil­ity to speak Ara­bic led to an as­sign­ment in 1972 to go to Saudi Ara­bia to work on a gas deal. Bar­rack played squash with a lo­cal Saudi. Soon the Saudi brought his brothers. It turned out they were all sons of the king of Saudi Ara­bia. Bar­rack spent many hours lis­ten­ing to the Arabs dis­cuss their world, which he said gave him “great re­spect for the so­ci­ety and com­mu­nity.”

The princes, in turn, hired him, and he be­came, as he put it, the Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive of “the boys.”

A room­mate at Bar­rack’s Beirut apart­ment in­tro­duced him to Manafort, who rep­re­sented a firm do­ing busi­ness with a Saudi con­struc­tion com­pany. They be­came close friends and, four decades later, Bar­rack per­suaded Trump to hire Manafort for his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Bar­rack’s suc­cess rep­re­sent­ing the Saudi princes en­abled him to buy a Cal­i­for­nia ranch in 1979, just down a hill from Ron­ald Rea­gan’s Ran­cho del Cielo es­tate in Cal­i­for­nia. The Se­cret Ser­vice later boarded horses at Bar­rack’s ranch, and he oc­ca­sion­ally went on trail rides and sat around camp­fires with Rea­gan. “I loved him,” Bar­rack said of Rea­gan.

Bar­rack first came to national at­ten­tion in 1982 as a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary to In­te­rior Sec­re­tary James Watt, a con­tro­ver­sial Cab­i­net mem­ber in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion who later an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion while at Bar­rack’s ranch.

Later, Bar­rack be­came en­tan­gled in con­tro­versy after he gave $70,000 to a per­son who bought the house of Rea­gan coun­selor Ed­win Meese and then for­gave the loan. Bar­rack was called be­fore Con­gress to an­swer ques­tions about whether his In­te­rior ap­point­ment was a quid pro quo. An in­de­pen­dent coun­sel found that there was “no ev­i­dence” Meese was aware of Bar­rack’s help.

The ex­pe­ri­ence con­vinced Bar­rack that he never wanted to serve in pub­lic of­fice. “They kill their own in Washington,” Bar­rack said.

Hired by the wealthy Bass fam­ily of Texas in 1987, Bar­rack re­ceived a phone call to come to Trump Tower to meet a ris­ing star in New York real es­tate.

Don­ald Trump wanted to buy a 20 per­cent share of the Alexan­der’s depart­ment store chain owned by the Bass brothers and take over some of the com­pany’s real es­tate. He quickly reached a deal with Bar­rack to buy the shares.

A year later, Trump set his sights on the Bass fam­ily-owned Plaza Ho­tel, which Trump could see from his of­fice win­dow.

“You have the Plaza,” Trump said, ac­cord­ing to Bar­rack. “I want it.”

Bar­rack told Trump that the fam­ily wanted $410 mil­lion for the prop­erty, and Trump sur­prised him by agree­ing to the price in cash. Trump later ac­knowl­edged that he could “never jus­tify” the price but said he wanted the tro­phy prop­erty, which he later had to give up as a re­sult of a bank­ruptcy agree­ment.

The sale sealed Bar­rack’s rep­u­ta­tion as a deal­maker.

“We then cre­ated a great per­sonal friend­ship,” Bar­rack said. “Our lives went along the same ca­dence. We both got di­vorced, we both had kids the same age, we both got re­mar­ried, and we did dif­fer­ent deals to­gether.”

Wil­liam Rogers, a Bar­rack busi­ness part­ner, said Bar­rack could tell Trump that he was wrong in a way few oth­ers could ac­com­plish. “Don­ald can be a hard man in his opin­ions,” Rogers said. “Tom had the abil­ity to tell Don­ald things that he didn’t want to hear from other peo­ple, in a way that Don­ald would say, ‘ Thank you; you’re my friend and can say it to me and not of­fend me.’ ”

In 1991, Bar­rack cre­ated his own com­pany, Colony Cap­i­tal, which be­came Colony NorthS­tar, of which he is ex­ec­u­tive chair­man. Bar­rack re­al­ized 50 per­cent prof­its for the next two years by in­vest­ing in dis­tressed prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing some bought from the Res­o­lu­tion Trust, the quasigov­ern­men­tal en­tity that sold off prop­erty held by fail­ing fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

Trump was strug­gling with fi­nan­cial prob­lems in 1994 when Bar­rack was brought in to help. A banker with Chase Man­hat­tan Bank called Bar­rack and told him that Trump’s port­fo­lio, in­clud­ing a $100 mil­lion loan with Chase for a Man­hat­tan devel­op­ment, was in trou­ble.

“Chase called us in Los Angeles and says to Tom, ‘You’re the only per­son who has ever been able to deal with Don­ald 100 per­cent, and deal with him rea­son­ably,’ ” Rogers said. “‘Would you help us with this? Be­cause if he doesn’t work with us, it is going to be re­ally, re­ally bad for him.’ ”

Bar­rack wanted to help his friend and thought he might in­vest in the deal. He went on a world­wide search for a backer and got a com­mit­ment from “sev­eral mem­bers” of the Saudi royal fam­ily.

Trump ul­ti­mately de­cided to go with in­vestors from Hong Kong. Still, Bar­rack’s in­ter­ven­tion had been cru­cial, per­suad­ing Chase not to fore­close and giv­ing Trump time to line up fi­nanc­ing.

The two re­mained close. Bar­rack hired Trump to over­see ren­o­va­tion of a Park Av­enue prop­erty. While there are many sto­ries of Trump stiff­ing or un­der­pay­ing part­ners, Bar­rack said he never had such prob­lems.

By 2005, For­tune mag­a­zine pro­filed Bar­rack as “ar­guably the best real es­tate in­vestor on the planet to­day.” Bar­rack told For­tune, “I’m get­ting out” of real es­tate deals be­cause the market was ready for a crash. Trump was quoted say­ing, “Tom has an amaz­ing vi­sion of the fu­ture, an abil­ity to see what’s going to hap­pen that no one else can match.”

Bar­rack’s pre­dic­tion proved true. As the 2007 fi­nan­cial cri­sis pum­meled many real es­tate in­vestors, Bar­rack bought up dis­counted prop­erty or debt. He wound up hold­ing part of the debt on a pro­ject con­trolled by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, who had pur­chased a 41-story Fifth Av­enue of­fice tower at the height of the market and was hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing the loan pay­ments. When Kush­ner tried to re­struc­ture his debt — mean­ing some in­vestors would re­ceive less than ex­pected — he flew to Cal­i­for­nia to get Bar­rack’s sup­port. After Bar­rack talked with Trump about the mat­ter, he went along with Kush­ner’s re­quest.

Around the same time, Bar­rack helped Manafort, loan­ing Trump’s fu­ture cam­paign man­ager $1.5 mil­lion to re­fi­nance a home in the Hamp­tons. Bar­rack said the loan was re­paid in 14 months and was the only fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tion be­tween the two.

Trump and Bar­rack be­gan talk­ing about the pres­i­dency as early as 1987, and the talk grew more se­ri­ous in 1999. “I used to tell him . . . peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is­sues and themes; they un­der­stand can­di­dates, and they look to see what is in the heart and char­ac­ter of the can­di­date, and you are great at that,” Bar­rack said.

When Trump an­nounced his can­di­dacy on June 16, 2015, Bar­rack was shocked by what he said.

Trump said Mex­ico was send­ing “rapists” and other crim­i­nals to the United States and that he would build “a great wall” that Mex­ico would pay for.

Bar­rack thought to him­self, “‘Oh my God, where are we going with this? What did he just say?’ Which I con­tinue to say, by the way. It is shock­ing to me that he would talk that way be­cause he is not that way.” Bar­rack said Mex­ico and the rest of Latin Amer­ica needs “kisses and hugs” from the pres­i­dent, not di­vi­sive at­tacks. He sug­gests that Trump change his motto from “Make Amer­ica Great Again” to a more con­ti­nen­tal theme of “Make the Amer­i­cas Great Again.”

An­other stun­ning mo­ment for Bar­rack came when Trump called in De­cem­ber 2015 for a “to­tal and com­plete shut­down of Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States” un­til au­thor­i­ties “can fig­ure out what the hell is going on.”

Bar­rack said Trump was try­ing to pres­sure Mus­lim-dom­i­nant coun­tries to root out ter­ror­ists within their midst. Still, he said that Trump’s ban “is one of the things that hit me the hard­est be­cause it is the most com­plex.”

Bar­rack’s an­ces­try fu­eled his con­cern. He had of­ten vis­ited Zahleh, the moun­tain city that his grand­fa­ther em­i­grated from in 1900. The area now houses strings of set­tle­ments of Syr­ian refugees, many of whom barely sub­sist. More than 1 mil­lion Syr­i­ans have taken shel­ter in the coun­try of 6 mil­lion peo­ple.

Bar­rack vis­ited Zahleh in May 2016, as Trump’s pro­posed Mus­lim ban con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate cam­paign cov­er­age.

Lu­ciano Cales­tini, who at the time was deputy rep­re­sen­ta­tive of UNICEF-Le­banon, took Bar­rack on a tour of sev­eral refugee set­tle­ments. “He had a chance to walk around, talk to refugees and think what it would have been like to grow up there,” Cales­tini said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “He re­flected on how eas­ily that could have been him if his grand­fa­ther hadn’t moved . . . with no job and des­tined for a life of just scrap­ing by.”

Bar­rack, speak­ing about the visit, said he thought about how his grand­par­ents had fled the same area amid sec­tar­ian and po­lit­i­cal strife and how lit­tle had changed for those un­lucky enough to be refugees.

Bar­rack said he fre­quently talked to Trump about the pro­posed Mus­lim ban, seek­ing to ex­plain why the Mus­lim ban could go over badly in the re­gion.

“The pres­i­dent al­ways viewed me as one of the few Arab Amer­i­can friends that he has,” Bar­rack said. “I’m telling him, ‘Look, Is­lam is the fastest-grow­ing re­li­gion in the world. You got 2 bil­lion Mus­lims.’ ” If young Mus­lims can’t find jobs, they may turn to ter­ror­ism, he told Trump.

Bar­rack sup­ported Trump’s cam­paign, and shortly after Trump lost the Iowa cau­cuses, he re­con­nected with his old friend Manafort, a long­time Repub­li­can con­sul­tant.

“I re­ally need to get to” Trump, Manafort said, ac­cord­ing to Bar­rack. He told Bar­rack he wanted to work as Trump’s con­ven­tion man­ager, help­ing him nav­i­gate what they ex­pected would be a con­tentious af­fair.

Bar­rack, who had long been friendly with Kush­ner, as well as Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka, said he wrote them an email urg­ing Trump to hire Manafort.

Manafort soon be­came part of the cam­paign’s in­ner cir­cle, ris­ing to be­come chair­man. He joined Kush­ner and Don­ald Trump Jr. in a meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer who was said to have dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton. The meet­ing is now a fo­cus of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Rus­sia col­luded with the Trump cam­paign, which all in­volved in the meet­ing have de­nied.

Manafort re­signed in Au­gust after re­ports of his ties to Ukraine’s for­mer pres­i­dent. He be­lat­edly filed a re­port un­der the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act say­ing his com­pany had been paid $17 mil­lion. Manafort’s com­pli­cated fi­nan­cial af­fairs brought him un­der in­tense scru­tiny, in­clud­ing an early morn­ing FBI raid at his home in Vir­ginia. Mueller’s of­fice and Manafort de­clined to com­ment.

Bar­rack said he has not been con­tacted by the Of­fice of Spe­cial Coun­sel or con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Bar­rack, mean­while, stood by Manafort. He in­vited Manafort to ac­com­pany him off the coast of Greece on his yacht. “He got fired, and I felt ter­ri­ble,” Bar­rack said. “When Manafort called, he was de­pressed. I said, ‘I have got five guys on a boat,’ and ‘Join us.’ He came over, and he spent four or five days fig­ur­ing out what he would do next.”

That loy­alty has con­tin­ued. Bar­rack hired Manafort’s busi­ness part­ner, Rick Gates, as deputy chair­man of the Pres­i­den­tial In­au­gu­ral Com­mit­tee and then as direc­tor of the Washington of­fice of Colony NorthS­tar. Gates de­clined to com­ment.

Days after Bar­rack re­turned from vis­it­ing the refugee set­tle­ments in Le­banon, he turned his at­ten­tion to giv­ing Trump’s cam­paign fi­nan­cial help. Trump had first promised to fi­nance his own cam­paign. But that vow was dropped, and Bar­rack brought in $7 mil­lion at a fundrais­ing din­ner at his pala­tial home in Santa Mon­ica.

Then, in June 2016, Bar­rack helped found a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, Re­build­ing Amer­ica Now, which raised $23 mil­lion. After the elec­tion, Bar­rack served as chair­man of Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee, rais­ing more than $100 mil­lion, nearly twice as much as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s record 2009 haul of $53 mil­lion.

Bar­rack sees it as log­i­cal that rais­ing a lot of money could trans­late into a job of­fer, and that is what hap­pened.

“Yeah, I raised the most money for him,” Bar­rack said. “The in­au­gu­ra­tion in it­self was over $100 mil­lion that we had to raise from scratch. So of course he said, ‘Would you like Trea­sury? What would you like to do?’ ”

Bar­rack said he told the pres­i­dent he would pre­fer to be an out­sider. Pri­vately, he would be the low-pro­file Trump whis­perer, and, pub­licly, the Trump ex­plainer.

“In my com­mu­ni­ties, the fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity, the me­dia com­mu­nity, the en­ter­tain­ment com­mu­nity, they re­ally don’t like him, in a vis­ceral way,” Bar­rack said. “So to the ex­tent that I can try to bridge a tol­er­ance, I think I can help him the most.”

Bar­rack in­sisted that Amer­i­cans are start­ing to wit­ness Trump change. “He is learn­ing to gov­ern, deal with the Democrats, build­ing con­stituen­cies.”

As Trump be­gan his pres­i­dency, Bar­rack saw an op­por­tu­nity to help re­shape Mid­dle East pol­icy, which was one of Kush­ner’s many as­sign­ments. Bar­rack reached out to his friends in the Per­sian Gulf, some of whom had been put off by Trump’s cam­paign rhetoric about Mus­lims, and tried to as­sure them that they could work with the pres­i­dent.

“I tell them I know him per­son­ally at a very in­ti­mate level and the truth is, his pas­sion and his com­pas­sion and his em­pa­thy for them is true and is deep,” Bar­rack said, even as he ac­knowl­edged that “draw­ing these hard lines from 6,000 miles away may seem harsh.”

Bar­rack’s Arab deal­mak­ing has for years fu­eled his busi­ness, fo­cused on three coun­tries: Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and Qatar. He’s done sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness with all of them, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether that could in­flu­ence his ad­vice to Trump on Per­sian Gulf is­sues.

He worked with Saudi Prince Al­waleed bin Talal, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of a Saudi in­vest­ment com­pany, to buy the Fair­mont Ho­tel chain. Royal fam­ily mem­bers in the United Arab Emi­rates part­nered with him in the Kerzner In­ter­na­tional ho­tel com­pany, which op­er­ates a lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel called At­lantis, The Palm, in Dubai.

Some of Bar­rack’s most re­cent and sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments have been with funds con­nected to Qatar’s royal fam­ily. In 2010, he worked with part­ners in­clud­ing the Qatar In­vest­ment Author­ity to buy the Mi­ra­max film stu­dio for $660 mil­lion and was named chair­man. The pur­chase brought Bar­rack full cir­cle from his mod­est up­bring­ing in the shadow of MGM Stu­dios. He be­came one of the first stu­dio heads to li­cense con­tent to Net­flix, a strat­egy that he said en­abled him to sell Mi­ra­max to Qatari in­vestors for four times what he paid for it.

In 2012, a com­pany af­fil­i­ated with Bar­rack’s firm sold prop­erty on Italy’s Sar­dinian coast to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, which is con­trolled by the emir and the royal fam­ily. Ital­ian of­fi­cials later launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the trans­ac­tion had been ar­ranged to avoid pay­ing $190 mil­lion in taxes, ac­cord­ing to the Guardian.

Bar­rack, who has not been charged with wrong­do­ing, has de­nied avoid­ing taxes. A Lux­em­bourg en­tity that han­dled the trans­ac­tion for Bar­rack’s com­pany has paid a set­tle­ment of 22 mil­lion eu­ros.

Bar­rack tried to use his Qatar con­nec­tion to help Kush­ner, who was search­ing for fi­nanc­ing for the rede­vel­op­ment of 666 Fifth Av­enue, the trou­bled 41-story of­fice tower Bar­rack had once in­vested in. Bar­rack said he told the for­mer prime min­is­ter of Qatar to con­sider in­vest­ing in the Kush­ner Cos. prop­erty, but the deal never hap­pened.

At the same time, the Arab na­tions have poured their sovereign wealth into the in­vest­ment funds run by Bar­rack’s com­pany. Bar­rack de­clined to pro­vide specifics.

Bar­rack’s re­la­tion­ships have been com­pli­cated by ten­sions among the Per­sian Gulf na­tions. Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates have led the ef­fort to break re­la­tions with Qatar and im­pose an em­bargo for its al­leged ter­ror­ism ties. Qatar, which hosts a U.S. mil­i­tary base with 10,000 Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel, says it is a staunch U.S. ally.

Bar­rack stressed he is not pick­ing one friend over the other. “It should be clear that I am friends and have been part­ners with all three of these Mid­dle East coun­tries at is­sue,” Bar­rack said.

Bar­rack’s most pub­lic ef­fort to in­flu­ence pol­icy came in a pre­elec­tion For­tune col­umn in which he called for the United States to back a “Mar­shall Plan” that would aid the poor and said there must be a “rad­i­cal shift in ... [U.S.] out­reach to­ward the Arab world.”

Bar­rack in­tro­duced Kush­ner to Yousef al-Otaiba, the in­flu­en­tial UAE am­bas­sador to the United States, and the two have spoken reg­u­larly. Otaiba de­clined to com­ment.

Bar­rack said he sees no con­flict raised by his busi­ness deal­ings and his ad­vice to Trump, say­ing he is just “try­ing to be an hon­est in­di­vid­ual that has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in the re­gion” and that he would not risk his rep­u­ta­tion by try­ing to use his ties to Trump for fi­nan­cial gain. “My ob­jec­tive is to just try and cre­ate a ta­pes­try in which all three of them weave a so­lu­tion,” Bar­rack said.

Dana Shell Smith, the U.S. am­bas­sador to Qatar from 2014 to June of this year, said, “Tom Bar­rack is per­haps one of the only peo­ple in the world who un­der­stands the par­ties well enough and knows all of them well enough, in­clud­ing our ad­min­is­tra­tion, to help bring an end to the cri­sis.”

Notwith­stand­ing the suc­cess of Bar­rack and his ad­min­is­tra­tion al­lies in mo­du­lat­ing Trump’s view, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates con­tinue to im­pose their block­ade of Qatar, and the cri­sis con­tin­ues.


Real es­tate in­vestor Thomas J. Bar­rack Jr. rec­om­mended Paul Manafort dur­ing the cam­paign and re­mains in­flu­en­tial on Per­sian Gulf mat­ters.


ABOVE: Thomas J. Bar­rack Jr. speaks dur­ing the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion in Cleve­land in 2016. The Colony NorthS­tar ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, also seen at top, has been Pres­i­dent Trump’s friend for three decades.


Thomas J. Bar­rack Jr. and his wife, Rachelle, left, tour a refugee camp May 3, 2016, in Zahleh, Le­banon. Bar­rack’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther em­i­grated from the city, then a part of Syria.

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