Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin testified Thursday in the trial of former Trump inaugural chair Tom Barrack, who is accused of illegally lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
Mnuchin, called as a defense witness by Barrack, testified that in 2017 Barrack had expressed support for Qatar in the 2017 blockade of the tiny nation -- a position that would have put him at odds with the UAE.
"He came in with the idea of telling me that he thought the president had made a mistake supporting the blockade ... his position was clearly in support of Qatar," Mnuchin said of a meeting he had with Barrack shortly after then-President Trump publicly announced his support for the blockade of Qatar by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
"He asked me to pass those views on to the president," Mnuchin said.
Prosecutors have accused Barrack, a Los Angeles-based businessman and longtime Trump associate, of acting as a foreign agent for the UAE from 2016 to 2018 yet failing to register with the Department of Justice, which they say constitutes a crime. Barrack has pleaded not guilty.
Mnuchin, whose testimony on Thursday lasted under 30 minutes, served as United States treasury secretary from 2017 to 2021. He re-entered the private sector upon leaving government.
On cross examination, Mnuchin sought to avoid specific questions about his own investment firm's financial ties to the UAE.
"Your honor, we're subject to various confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements with our investors -- am I required to answer that question?" Mnuchin asked the judge after being questioned by prosecutors about whether his firm has specifically taken investments from UAE sovereign wealth funds.
The judge said he should answer generally.
"Your fund includes investments from sovereign wealth funds from the UAE?" the prosecutor asked again.
"Yes," Mnuchin replied.
Mnuchin, who served on the National Security Council as part of his role leading the Treasury Department, also testified that he never asked Barrack to conduct any work for him on behalf of the government.
"You never directed Mr. Barrack to do anything on your behalf as treasury secretary, is that true?" the prosecutor asked.
"Of course not," Mnuchin replied.
But Mnuchin repeatedly declined to answer questions about internal administration conversations regarding the Qatar blockade, citing executive privilege.
On redirect, defense attorney Michael Schachter seized on that line of questioning to emphasize that Barrack was not subject to the same restrictions -- because unlike Mnuchin, he was not a member of the United States government.
"Those confidentiality restrictions that applied to you -- are you aware of whether there were any confidentiality restrictions that apply to Mr. Barrack that prevent him from speaking to whoever he wanted to?" Schachter asked Mnuchin.
"Not that I'm aware of, no," Mnuchin replied.