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President Trump Enlists Australia's Help In Russia Influence Probe


The Trump administration confirms our next story. President Trump called Australia seeking information about an investigation that affected him. Attorney General William Barr maintains in a statement that he asked the president to make this phone call. Trump asked Australia's prime minister to help the U.S. Justice Department find out how the U.S. discovered Russia's participation in the 2016 election, participation that, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, was designed to support President Trump.

Andrew Greene is a correspondent with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC, which is different from ABC in the United States. He's on this story. Welcome to the program, sir.

ANDREW GREENE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How much are you able to learn about the content of this phone call?

GREENE: It's perhaps a little surprising for Australian correspondents like myself that the full details of this call haven't yet leaked from the Trump White House, as they did with a previous call to a previous Australian prime minister...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: ...Malcolm Turnbull. But in this case, we know a little bit about the substance. And that has come from confirmation on both sides. The Trump administration and the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison have both confirmed that the leaders discussed William Barr's investigation. And Donald Trump made it clear that he would like Australia's assistance in investigating what this country knew of the events that led to the original Mueller inquiry.

INSKEEP: Can we just recall one bit of what happened in 2016 - is this correct? - that there was an Australian agent who was talking with a man connected with the Trump campaign who started talking about Russia? Is that what happened?

GREENE: It is somewhat amusing for Australians to hear this man is described as an agent because he's actually a very well-known and the longest-serving Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer. But in 2016, he was Australia's high commissioner to London. It was there that...

INSKEEP: Ah, so he's a diplomat. He's an ambassador. OK.

GREENE: That's right. And at the time, he met with George Papadopoulos, who at the time was a member, as you know, of the Trump election team. The two men had a conversation at a wine bar in London, where George Papadopoulos revealed that the Trump campaign apparently had been offered information on their opponent Hillary Clinton from Russian sources. This was dutifully reported back to Australian bosses in Canberra, the capital, but they didn't really pass it on to American authorities until much later on. And this, we're told, in part was the trigger for the FBI to launch its now-famous Mueller inquiry into Russian interference.

INSKEEP: Do you have any insight, Mr. Greene, as to what remains to be learned about this? We've just been told that an Australian diplomat heard something, eventually passed it on. Is there some hint of some darker conspiracy, some Australian conspiracy to get President Trump, someone else's conspiracy to get President Trump?

GREENE: Certainly allies of Donald Trump have suggested that. But Australian government sources are very confident that what Alexander Downer did was exactly what he was paid to do, and that was to pass on information he heard in his work as the Australian high commissioner. So the Australian government believes there is nothing untoward and Alexander Downer was simply hearing what he had heard from a member of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign team.

INSKEEP: Right, the Trump campaign team. So is Australia cooperating with this request for further information?

GREENE: The Australian government has consistently said that it will help a close Australian ally, the United States, in any request that it makes. Now, it does so with no deal of great enthusiasm because it recognizes that the Barr inquiry into the Mueller probe is highly partisan and very contentious in the United States. Nevertheless, though, the Australian prime minister says that Australia stands ready to provide any information that the United States seeks about the activities of Alexander Downer.

INSKEEP: Mr. Greene, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.

GREENE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Andrew Greene is with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.