ALEX IN HOT SEAT AS FBI PAYS A CALL

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - KYLAR LOUSSIKIAN

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.

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