ALEX IN HOT SEAT AS FBI PAYS A CALL
AUSTRALIAN officials broke normal diplomatic rules to allow FBI agents to interview Alexander Downer as part of an investigation into Russian influence and collusion with Donald Trump’s election campaign.
The New York Times yesterday revealed FBI investigators had secretly flown to London to speak to Mr Downer, then the High Commissioner in Britain, just days after the agency launched an operation known as Crossfire Hurricane which has so far spawned charges against former Trump campaign officials and several Russians.
Access to Mr Downer, a former Howard government foreign minister, was reportedly granted after tense deliberations between authorities in the US and officials in Canberra, laying the groundwork for a lengthy investigation that continues today and has resulted in dozens of charges.
Mr Downer reportedly told investigators about information he received after a night of heavy drinking with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.
Earlier reports said when Democratic Party emails leaked, targeting Hillary Clinton’s election campaign, Mr Downer passed what Mr Papadopoulos had told him to Australian officials who communicated them to authorities in the US.
A former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, Mr Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about meetings he held with contacts with close relationships to Russia.
But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has described his role in the campaign as “extremely limited”.
Mr Downer has since returned from London. His daughter Georgina Downer is the Liberal Party’s candidate in the coming Mayo by-election, hoping to win the former blue-ribbon seat back for the party from Centre Alliance candidate Rebekah Sharkie.
It is not clear what Mr Papadopoulos told Mr Downer, who has since been replaced in London by former attorney-general George Brandis and Foreign Affairs officials declined to comment.
However, court documents show US investigators claim the aide’s meetings with Russian nationals is the first “concrete” information Mr Trump was aware of the ties to the Kremlin. In 2016, an academic with ties to Russia told Mr Papadopoulos the Russians had email “dirt” on Mrs Clinton.
Former foreign minister Alexander Downer (far right), as High Commissioner to the UK, was interviewed by FBI agents about his knowledge of Russian links to Donald Trump’s election campaign.