By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump may be called as a witness at the criminal trial of Thomas Barrack, a private equity investor and former Trump fundraiser charged with acting as an unregistered agent for the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. judge said on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn told several prospective jurors for Barrack's trial about the prospect of Trump testifying to gauge whether they might be biased against the defendant.
Prosecutors said Barrack, a former chairman of the company now called DigitalBridge Group Inc, tried to exploit his ties to Trump to advance UAE interests, without disclosing his efforts to the U.S. attorney general as the law requires. Barrack raised money for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and chaired Trump's 2017 inaugural committee.
Barrack, 75, has pleaded not guilty, as has his former assistant and co-defendant Matthew Grimes. Both intend to argue that their interactions with UAE officials were part of their work, and Barrack's lawyers have said the U.S. State Department, and Trump himself, knew of his contacts with Middle East officials.
Any testimony by Trump would come as the Republican businessman-turned-politician faces a number of legal issues including a federal investigation into his handling of presidential records after leaving office and a New York state trial in October of his family company on tax fraud charges.
A lawyer and a spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Barrack's lawyers in an Aug. 26 court filing said Trump and members of his administration "cannot be ruled out as potential witnesses."
Twelve jurors and four alternates are to be selected to serve in the trial, which is expected to last about one month.
Prosecutors believe UAE officials gave Barrack input about what to say in television interviews and what Trump should say in a 2016 energy policy speech, and directed him to promote the interests of Saudi Arabia, a UAE ally.
Barrack was charged https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-advisor-presidential-candidate-among-three-defendants-charged-acting-agents-foreign last year with acting as a foreign agent, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements in an FBI interview. The foreign agent charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Cogan dismissed one prospective juror who said she did not like Trump, prompting the judge to ask if she could set her feelings aside.
"Subconsciously, I have no control," she said. "Consciously, I want to be fair and impartial."
Other prospective jurors were deemed fit to serve after they said their views about Trump would not affect how they weighed evidence.
One such juror said on a questionnaire that Trump was his least-admired public figure for "embarrassing our country and trying to steal an election." Another said in court he believed "Trump is better than Biden," referring to President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Barrack was arrested in Los Angeles but has been free on $250 million bond. Another co-defendant, Emirati businessman Rashid Al Malik, is at large.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)