Who Is Behind Trump’s Links to Arab Princes? A Billionaire Friend

The billionaire financier Tom Barrack was caught in a bind.

.. Mr. Trump’s outspoken hostility to Muslims — epitomized by his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — was offending the Persian Gulf princes Mr. Barrack had depended on for decades as investors and buyers.

.. Mr. Barrack, a longtime friend who had done business with the ambassador, assured him that Mr. Trump understood the Persian Gulf perspective. “He also has joint ventures in the U.A.E.!” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email on April 26.

.. During the Trump campaign, Mr. Barrack was a top fund-raiser and trusted gatekeeper who opened communications with the Emiratis and Saudis, recommended that the candidate bring on Paul Manafort as campaign manager — and then tried to arrange a secret meeting between Mr. Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

.. Investigators interviewed him in December but asked questions almost exclusively about Mr. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates

.. he has said he rebuffed offers to become treasury secretary or ambassador to Mexico.

.. He sought a role as a special envoy for Middle East economic development

.. Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia

.. Mr. Barrack played as a matchmaker between Mr. Trump and the Persian Gulf princes.

.. “He is the only person I know who the president speaks to as a peer,” said Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative who has known both men for decades. “Barrack is to Trump as Bebe Rebozo was to Nixon, which is the best friend,”

.. By 2010, he had acquired $70 million of the debt owed by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on his troubled $1.8 billion purchase of a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. After a call from Mr. Trump, Mr. Barrack was among a group of lenders who agreed to reduce Mr. Kushner’s obligations to keep him out of bankruptcy.

.. Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Donald J. Trump first met in the 1980s, and Mr. Barrack got the better of the encounters. He negotiated Mr. Trump into overpaying for two famous assets: a one-fifth stake in the New York department store chain Alexander’s in 1985, and the entire Plaza Hotel in 1988. Mr. Trump paid about $410 million for the Plaza and later lost both properties to creditors.

.. But Mr. Barrack nonetheless parlayed the deals into a lasting friendship, in part by flattering Mr. Trump about his skill as a negotiator.

“He played me like a Steinway piano,” Mr. Barrack recounted in a speech at the Republican convention.

.. people who know him well say he still tells new acquaintances that he is truly honored to meet them, cheerfully doling out superlatives like “first-class,” “amazing” and “brilliant.” He invariably tells the story of his own success as a parable about luck and perseverance, never about talent.

.. He grew up speaking Arabic as the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles

.. Mr. Barrack wrote back that Mr. Trump was “the king of hyperbole.”

.. “We can turn him to prudence,” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email. “He needs a few really smart Arab minds to whom he can confer — u r at the top of that list!”

.. Mr. Barrack had befriended Mr. Manafort in the 1970s, when they were both living in Beirut and working for Saudi interests.

.. Early in 2016, when Mr. Trump faced the prospect of a contested nomination fight at the Republican convention, Mr. Barrack had recommended Mr. Manafort for the job of campaign manager. “The most experienced and lethal of managers” and “a killer,” Mr. Barrack called him in a letter to Mr. Trump.

.. The Saudi prince had tried to reach the Trump campaign through “a midlevel person” at the rival private equity giant Blackstone

.. Mr. Barrack forwarded to the ambassador a message from Mr. Manafort with a “clarification” that modulated Mr. Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

.. Mr. Barrack informed Ambassador Otaiba that the Trump team had also removed a proposed Republican platform provision inserted to “embarrass” Saudi Arabia. The provision had called for the release of redacted pages about the kingdom in a report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

.. When those two states imposed an embargo on their neighbor Qatar — home to a major United States air base — Mr. Trump broke with his own administration to throw his weight squarely behind the Saudis and Emiratis.

.. Until recently, Mr. Barrack’s most prominent Gulf customers were neither the Emiratis nor the Saudis — but their bitter rivals the Qataris

.. None of the Gulf investments that Mr. Barrack’s company has brought in since Mr. Trump’s nomination have come from Qatar.