Davos in the Desert Impacts a Trump Crony in Court


The U.S.-Saudi Politics in the Barrack Trial Are a Mirror Image of the Larger Geopolitical Ones

There’s heavy irony in the fact that the trial of Trump crony billionaire businessman Tom Barrack—focused on allegations that he and a young aide acted as foreign agents for the United Arab Emirates, a country that has generally been considered a US ally for decades—continues apace while over in Saudi Arabia—a kingdom that is 500 miles from the UAE and is their closest ally—the Saudis are hosting Wall Street’s brightest and best at the annual conference nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.”

After the jury left Monday’s proceedings, there was chat among the lawyers about Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of the private equity giant Blackstone. Barrack’s defense team wanted to show a video of Schwarzman essentially saying the same flattering things about the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that Barrack has. (This flattery is along the lines of his reforms and efforts to transition Saudi Arabia away from an oil-based economy.)

The government objected. The prosecution, in particular Sam Nitze, has repeatedly made it clear—especially during his cross-examination of Princeton Professor of Near Eastern Studies Bernard Haykel—that they will not tolerate images of either MBS or his mentor MBZ, the leader of the UAE, being depicted as some kind of fuzzy, Teva-wearing philanthropists without offering an alternative view of their autocratic regimes.

If the judge allowed a video of Schwarzman talking up MBS to be played, Nitze said he’d want a video of somebody else saying something less flattering: “Just like they have a video clip, we’ll look for other video clips. Jamal Khashoggi might be a name that surfaces again in terms of people saying different things than Mr. Barrack.”

(In the end, the judge did not allow the video into testimony, not wanting to go down a rabbit hole.)

But the conversation in the courtroom could not be happening at a thornier, more fragile moment in relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia—one that reflects on a vast international stage exactly the political battle going on inside the Barrack trial, even though the UAE and not Saudi Arabia is the country that Barrack is accused of spying for. Unfairly perhaps for the UAE, they’ve become almost indistinguishable.

Read the rest at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”