US President Donald Trump asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for Australia’s help in investigating the origins of the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference.
- Former UK high commissioner Alexander Downer helped trigger an initial FBI investigation into Mr Trump’s links with Russia
- US Attorney-General William Barr has been running a counter-investigation into the Mueller report
- The Prime Minister’s office says Australia is ready to help Mr Barr’s probe
A Federal Government spokesperson confirmed the request, which is believed to have happened weeks ago after Mr Trump criticised Australia over the investigation by former FBI head Robert Mueller.
The Mueller probe, which Mr Trump repeatedly condemned as a “witch hunt”, found there was no evidence Mr Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election, but was unable to exonerate him from obstruction of justice.
This morning a White House source confirmed that Mr Trump had asked Mr Morrison to assist a Justice Department investigation into the Mueller probe being carried out by US Attorney-General William Barr.
“The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation,” a Federal Government spokesperson told the ABC.
“The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President.”
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.VIDEO: Alexander Downer says he knows nothing about the latest revelations (ABC News)
Sources have told the ABC that Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, wrote to Mr Trump’s chief of staff seeking an explanation after he heard the President’s criticism of Australia on May 25.
The call between Mr Trump and Mr Morrison happened months later, in the first week in September, before the Prime Minister travelled to the United States, where he met with Mr Trump in Washington and Ohio.
The letter Australia’s Ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, sent to US Attorney-General William Barr #auspol
Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten demanded Mr Morrison release the full transcript of his conversation with Mr Trump.
“Prime Minister Morrison got a very warm, indeed special reception from President Trump. Mr Morrison needs to clean up the perception that perhaps the special reception was returned for special favours done,” he said.
“The Australian people value and cherish the American alliance, but no Australian wants to see our Prime Minister having the perception of being a lapdog to a particular US president or American domestic political agenda.”
Australia’s former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, helped trigger the initial FBI investigation into Mr Trump’s links with Russia.
After Mr Trump’s election, then-US attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigations into allegations of Russian interference, because he had been involved in the Trump campaign. His then-deputy, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Mr Mueller as special counsel to investigate further allegations that had emerged about Russian interference.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the request to Mr Morrison was simply a case of Mr Trump trying to facilitate access for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the Australian Government.
“The Democrats clearly don’t want the truth to come out anymore as it might hurt them politically, but this call relates to a DOJ inquiry publicly announced months ago to uncover exactly what happened,” he said in a statement.
“The DOJ simply requested that the President provide introductions to facilitate that ongoing inquiry, and he did so, that’s all.”Follow this story to get email or text alerts from ABC Australia when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story
US media has reported the Trump administration has also asked Britain and Italy to help with the inquiries.
Downer ‘can’t be forced to do anything’
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.VIDEO: Donald Trump called for the investigation of Australia and the UK (ABC News)
On May 24, Mr Trump announced he had declassified intelligence documents to allow Mr Barr to investigate how the initial FBI investigation into Russian interference came about.
“So what I’ve done is I have declassified everything,” Mr Trump said.
The inside story of that meeting between Australia’s then High Commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, and Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that triggered the initial FBI investigation into links with Russia.
“He [Mr Barr] can look and I hope he looks at the UK 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.”
Mr Trump is facing the prospect of impeachmentamid allegations he pressured the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential Democratic challenger in next year’s US elections.
In a letter dated May 28, 2019, Mr Hockey wrote to Mr Barr to commit Australia to assisting the Justice Department investigation.
“I note that the President referred to Australia, the United Kingdom and Ukraine as potential stakeholders,” Mr Hockey wrote.
“The Australian Government will use its best endeavours to support your efforts in this matter.”
Mr Hockey said Australia would provide the US with all relevant information that supported its inquiries.
But a Federal Government source played down the extent of Australia’s involvement amid fears it was a hyper-partisan inquiry aimed at attacking Democrats.
“Australia’s always been willing to co-operate with a properly constituted US Justice inquiry, and will do so, but recognising it’s a highly partisan affair we don’t go into it with any great enthusiasm,” they said.
“Clearly they [the US] want to speak to Downer, but he’s no longer in the Government so he can’t be forced to do anything.”
The meeting that triggered an investigation
This morning, Mr Downer said he did not know anything about the phone call between the President and Prime Minister.
“I don’t know anything at all about conversations that Scott Morrison has had with Donald Trump, I’m afraid these days [it] is not the sort of thing I’m privy to,” Mr Downer told Radio National Breakfast.
I have been right about Downer from the beginning. A wannabe spy and Clinton errand boy who is about to get exposed on the world stage. Great reporting, NYTs! Mifsud is next.5,8666:39 AM – Oct 1, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy2,733 people are talking about this
The meeting that helped trigger the investigation was between Mr Downer and then-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in a London pub.
Mr Downer fed the information he gleaned — including reports the Russians might use damaging material they had on Hillary Clinton — back to the Australian Government.
The information was only passed onto the United States after it became known that the FBI suspected a Russian hack of Clinton emails.
Papadopoulos was later sentenced to 14 days in jail for having lied to the FBI.