USC Trustee resigns in light of seven-count federal indictment

Thomas J. Barrack Jr. was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in 2012.

USC Trustee Thomas J. Barrack Jr. resigned from his position on the USC Board of Trustees on July 21, effective immediately, per a statement from the Board. Barrack, a former advisor to President Trump, was charged on July 20 with illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates in what federal prosecutors described as an attempt to influence the foreign policy position of the 2016 Trump campaign and the following administration.

According to the Board, Barrack “voluntarily resigned,” but had he not, the Bylaws of the University of Southern California would have allowed him to be removed as a board member, if he is convicted.

Barrack graduated with a degree in sociology from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1969 and attended the USC Gould School of Law. He has remained heavily involved with the university, including serving on the USC Marshall School of Business Board of Leaders. Barrack was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in 2012.

In 2014, he contributed to the renovation of USC Marshall’s Barrack Hall, which is home to the school’s international business programs.

In the seven-count indictment filed July 16, Barrack and two other men — Matthew Grimes and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi — were accused of acting as agents of the UAE from April 2016 and April 2018. Grimes was an aide for Barrack at Colony Capital, Barrack’s investment firm. Alshahhi is a UAE national who allegedly helped facilitate communication between Barrack and senior UAE government officials.

According to the court documents, the men were “tasked” with influencing the foreign policy positions in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and in their subsequent administration.

Barrack is a known personal friend of former President Trump and served as an advisor to his 2016 presidential campaign. He also served as the chairman of Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko alleged in a statement that Barrack leveraged his relationship with Trump to, “advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing [his] true allegiances,” a direct violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

According to the Department of Justice, Barrack “informally advised” senior U.S. government officials on issues related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and sought appointment to the role of Special Envoy to the Middle East.

The DOJ claims that Barrack, in a 2016 meeting with Alshahhi and UAE officials, urged them to draft a “wish list” of U.S. foreign policy changes for the new presidential administration to accomplish.

The DOJ also accuses Barrack of taking advantage of the American media to promote the UAE’s interests, both through his own television appearances and by influencing Trump’s behavior and speech. Following a media appearance in which he “repeatedly praised the UAE,” Barrack wrote in an email to Alshahhi, “I nailed it… for the home team,” referring to the UAE.

Barrack has also been charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal law enforcement agents in a 2019 interview regarding his communication with Middle Eastern officials.

Per the LA Times, Barrack’s spokesperson said that “he is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty” to the charges.

This is not Barrack’s first time in the spotlight.

According to a 2020 Los Angeles Times report, Barrack also arranged a meeting between former USC President Max Nikias and the family of Qatari Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose admission to USC and extravagant time in Los Angeles sparked controversy.

Barrack was also connected to the presidential pardon of Robert Zangrillo, one of the 11 USC parents charged in the Operation Varsity Blues investigation. The White House news release stated that Barrack supported the pardon of Zangrillo, who was accused of bribing USC for his daughter’s admission into the university. However, a spokesperson denied Barrack’s connection to the pardon.