Inaugural Committee chairman Tom Barrack speaks at a pre-Inaugural "Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Jan. 19, 2017. Barrack, chair of former President Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, was arrested Tuesday, July 20, 2021 in California on charges alleging that he and others conspired to influence Trump's foreign policy positions to benefit the United Arab Emirates.
David J. Phillip–AP
September 19, 2022 2:13 PM EDT

Jury selection began on Sept. 19 for the criminal trial of billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the businessman and longtime Trump ally who the Justice Department charged last year with attempting to influence Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions to benefit the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Barrack faces charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, with the Justice Department (DOJ) alleging that over a two-year period he improperly used his close relationship to Trump to try to advance the interests of the UAE at the direction of senior Emirati officials. The outcome of Barrack’s trial could shed light on how foreign nations sought to cement influence within the Trump Administration, as well as how President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is ramping up its prosecution of undisclosed foreign lobbying. Barrack has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

The criminal trial of the close Trump associate also comes amid increasing legal troubles for the former President himself, who faces criminal investigations into his alleged involvement in the 2021 riots in the U.S. Capitol, allegations that he illegally removed classified materials from the White House, and probes into whether he inflated the value of his assets and misled lenders in his business dealings. (Trump has denied any wrongdoing.)

Here’s what to know about the trial of Tom Barrack.

Who is Tom Barrack?

Barrack, 75, is a wealthy businessman who built his fortune from real estate investments. He founded the private equity real estate firm Colony Capital—which has since rebranded to DigitalBridge—in 1991. According to Forbes, the firm now manages $34 billion in assets, including $16 billion in commercial real estate and distressed debt-focused funds. As of 2013, Barrack was worth at least $1 billion, per Forbes.

Barrack is also a longtime friend of Trump’s and a powerful fundraiser. His Rebuilding America Now Super PAC raised $23 million for Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, according to the Center for Public Integrity, and Barrack served as chairman of the committee overseeing Trump’s 2017 Presidential inauguration and reportedly also served as an informal advisor to the campaign.

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, Barrack’s work has often centered around the Middle East. He has done significant business in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, according to the Washington Post, and first met longtime Republican operative Paul Manafort while working in Beirut. It was reportedly Barrack who convinced Trump to hire Manafort for his 2016 bid for President decades later. (Manafort was later convicted of tax and bank fraud in a 2018 trial in Virginia, and pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to his political consulting work in Ukraine as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office the same year.)

In 2018, the New York Times reported that Barrack not only “opened communications” between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Emiratis and the Saudis, but also held a “unique place in the Trump world,” as evidenced by Trump’s evolution from a candidate who campaigned on a Muslim ban to a close ally of both nations.

Why is Tom Barrack on trial?

In July 2021, DOJ unsealed a seven-count indictment alleging that Barrack—along with his assistant Matthew Grimes and UAE official Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, also known as Rashid Al Malik—acted and conspired to act as agents of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018. The indictment also alleged that Barrack made multiple false statements during a June 2019 interview with law enforcement and charged him with obstruction of justice. Barrack was briefly arrested in July 2021 and released on a $250 million bond awaiting trial, per the Los Angeles Times.

Barrack and Grimes have pleaded not guilty to all wrongdoing. Barrack faces charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal officials. He’s being tried with Grimes, who also faces charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.

Grimes’ lawyer did not respond to TIME’s request for comment. Al Malik could not be reached for comment; CNN reports that he fled the US in April 2018, three days after speaking with the FBI, and has not been located since.

As TIME reported last year, it is not unlawful for Americans to lobby for foreign governments—but they must register to work as a foreign agent in order to do so. DOJ alleges that Barrack, Al Malik, and Grimes used Barrack’s close relationship with Trump during both his first campaign and his presidency to advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE, and failed to notify the Attorney General that their actions were allegedly at the direction of senior UAE officials. This work allegedly included Barrack inserting pro-UAE language into a Trump campaign speech in May 2016, as well as receiving talking points from senior UAE officials for Barrack’s national press appearances. DOJ alleges that Barrack emailed Al Malik after one press appearance in 2016 that he “nailed it… for the home team,” seemingly referring to the UAE.

DOJ also alleges Barrack, Grimes and Al Malik agreed to promote a candidate for the position of United States Ambassador to the UAE that senior UAE officials preferred, and Al Malik and Barrack communicated in 2017 about UAE opposition to a proposed Camp David summit to address a dispute between Qatar and the UAE that Emirati officials did not want to take place. The summit never occurred.

Monday’s jury selection comes after weeks of back and forth between Barrack’s lawyers and DOJ over what candidates could be allowed to serve on the jury. Barrack and Grimes had requested that over 30 prospective jurors be excluded from the trial, according to Bloomberg. On September 2, Judge Brian Cogan said that jurors who had “merely some dislike” of Trump could be allowed to be considered for the jury. The trial is expected to run into October.

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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at madeleine.carlisle@time.com.

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