On a foggy January night in 2017, several hundred of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people gathered at a black-tie, $8000-per head dinner at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. They were there to celebrate the coming of a new world order and their host for the evening was an almost 70-year-old Republican real estate billionaire known for buying and selling extravagant hotels.
No, not Donald Trump. In fact, Trump, whose inauguration was just three days away, wasn’t originally scheduled to attend this gathering; he only decided at the last minute to fly in for an appearance, thereby necessitating a rearrangement of the seating so that he could take his place beside the man who was the evening’s host, his affable, and ever-loyal friend of 30 years, the Lebanese-American, thrice-divorced, polo-playing Thomas Joseph Barrack.
Barrack, now 75, who had once been chairman of Miramax, and who was founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based private equity real estate firm Colony Capital, had been the Trump campaign’s biggest early backer, a bold move given that Trump was initially shunned by both the Republican Party and the business establishment. As a reward, Trump had gifted his longtime chum with what seemed a plum post: chairman of his inaugural. Barrack promptly raised an unprecedented $107 million, more than double what had been procured for Obama. This glittering gala at the Mellon Auditorium — Barrack’s Chairman’s Global Dinner—was the opening act of his four-day inaugural extravaganza.
“I think what you’re going to find is a president-elect who has a keen sensitivity to listening, to understanding, to drawing firm and hard lines when he needs to, and this cultural sixth sense,” Barrack proclaimed to the crowd, which included such luminaries as Las Vegas moguls Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, NFL owners Robert Kraft, Woody Johnson, and Dan Snyder, as well as Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, Warner Music Group majority owner Len Blavatnik, and supermarket investor Ron Burkle. Soon-to-be Trump cabinet officials like Steve Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Wilbur Ross, and Rick Perry were also there. As was Paul Manafort and Rudy Giuliani.
But, alas, no party lasts forever. Just four and a half years later—on July 20, 2021—FBI agents burst into an investor meeting Barrack was attending in the San Fernando Valley, pushed him up against a wall, and slapped him in handcuffs. Barrack was then taken to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he found himself sharing a cell with a man with a stab wound. For a guy who was not just used to staying in five-star hotels, but used to owning them, it must have seemed a Job-like comeuppance. [Continue reading…]