By Kara Scannell
Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified that he never asked former Donald Trump adviser Tom Barrack to conduct any diplomacy of behalf of the United States or pass any information on to a foreign government.
Tillerson was called by prosecutors to buttress their allegations that Barrack was serving as a secret backchannel to the United Arab Emirates and was not officially involved in high-level discussions conducted by the secretary of state and US national security advisers about Middle East policy.
Barrack is on trial for allegedly acting as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates and for failing to notify the Justice Department of his role. Barrack has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys have said he was acting as his own person in his dealings with top UAE government officials, not peddling their ideas to influence US foreign policy.
A focus of prosecutors’ questions Monday revolved around a blockade of Qatar in June 2017 by several Middle East countries including the UAE.
Prosecutors allege an Emirati official communicated with Barrack about the UAE’s opposition to a proposed summit at Camp David to try to resolve the blockade.
During questioning by prosecutors, which lasted nearly an hour, Tillerson said it was then-President Trump who came up with the idea for the Camp David summit.
“It was his idea,” said Tillerson recounting a meeting in the Oval Office with Trump. “He wanted to try to get the parties together at Camp David.”
Authorities say Barrack advised Trump against holding the summit, which never happened.
Tillerson said to the best of his knowledge Barrack was not involved in discussions about the blockade. He also testified that he didn’t provide any foreign governments including the UAE information about internal US government discussions, explaining to the jury that the information was sensitive and they didn’t want any “outsiders” to have access to the information because positions could change and countries might misinterpret and react to partial information.
On cross-examination, lawyers for Barrack suggested Tillerson might not know of every conversation Trump had with advisers inside and outside the White House.
Tillerson acknowledged that he didn’t know about conversations Barrack had with Trump or with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.
To underscore the point, Barrack attorney Randall Jackson asked Tillerson if he was invited to a dinner Trump and Kushner had at the White House with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Tillerson said he didn’t attend the dinner and he didn’t remember if he was aware of it at the time.
Tillerson added that it was “evident” at the time that Kushner was speaking with the same foreign government officials that he was and their messages were not consistent.
Barrack’s attorney’s also suggested that there were disagreements within the White House about policies and that friction had been reported in newspaper stories at the time, so they were not shielded from the public or any foreign governments.
Tillerson was also questioned on cross-examination about his previous career at Exxon, where as chief executive officer he met frequently with numerous heads of state, and may have been asked about US policies.
“They could ask,” Tillerson testified. “It doesn’t mean I answered.”
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