Confirmed: PM Told Trump Australia Would Assist Probe Into Origins of Russia Probe

Patrick Goodenough | October 1, 2019 | 4:52am EDT
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President Trump speaks to reporters alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the White House on September 20. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The Australian government confirmed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a phone conversation with President Trump reaffirmed Australia’s willingness to “help shed further light on” investigations into the origins of the Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling.

“The Australian government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation,” a spokesman for the prime minister said in a statement.

“The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President.”

The statement came after the New York Times reported Monday that Trump had urged Morrison in a recent phone conversation to help Attorney General William Barr “gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Mr. Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation.”

The Times story, citing unidentified U.S. officials, sought to draw parallels between the Trump-Morrison call and the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which has prompted an impeachment inquiry by House Democratic leaders.

The Times said that as with the Trump-Zelensky call, access to the transcript was restricted, and that Trump’s phone discussion with the Australian leader “shows the president using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal political interests.”

A statement Monday by Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec characterized the contacts as standard practice, however.

Kupec recalled that Barr last spring directed U.S. Attorney in Connecticut John Durham to examine the origins of the FBI’s Russia/Trump investigation. (Barr did so after telling U.S. lawmakers he believed that “spying” had occurred on the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.)

Kupec said that Durham in the course of his review “is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries.”

“At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials,” she added.

Encounter in London

The Australia angle arises because of an incident in a London bar in 2016. Over drinks, Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos reportedly told Alexander Downer, then Australia’s top diplomat in Britain, that Russia had obtained and was offering damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race.

Downer duly reported the incident to his government, which tipped off the U.S.

The New York Times in late 2017 reported on the Downer-Papadopoulos encounter, and argued that it was the information from Australia – rather than the salacious opposition research document known as the Steele dossier – that sparked the FBI counterintelligence probe into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

In 2017 former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to take over the FBI investigation. The Mueller report, released in partially-redacted form last April, said the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and that it was unable to say “conclusively” whether the president had committed criminal conduct in obstructing justice.

In May, Trump granted Barr authority to declassify information relating to his investigation into “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election campaign.

A day later, he told reporters at the White House that as Barr investigates, “I hope he looks at the U.K., and I hope he looks at Australia, and I hope he looks at Ukraine. I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.”

“It’s the greatest hoax, probably, in the history of our country,” he added. “And somebody has to get to the bottom of it.”

In response to those comments, Australia’s Ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey, wrote to Barr several days later.

“I refer to President Trump’s announcement on 24 May that you will investigate the origins of the Federal Bureau of Investigations probe into Russian links to the 2016 elections,” the ambassador wrote, noting that the president had referred to Australia, as well as to Britain and Ukraine, in that context.

“The Australian Government will use its best endeavors to support your efforts in this matter,” Hockey added in the letter, copies of which were obtained by Australian media outlets on Tuesday.

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