FORMER foreign minister Alexander Downer has found himself at the centre of the FBI’s Russia hacking probe after it was sensationally revealed he passed on a tip about Kremlin plans to discredit Hillary Clinton.
Mr Downer, the current Australian High Commissioner in London, reportedly told Australian officials that Donald Trump’s aide had disclosed Moscow had highly damaging information about Mrs Clinton.
The tip-off Russia had “political dirt” about the Clinton campaign was later passed to US authorities after Mr Downer enjoyed a late-night drink in London with George Papadopoulos. 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.
The New York Times yesterday reported Australian officials told their American counterparts about the May 2016 conversation at the plush Kensington Wine Rooms after hacked Democratic emails surfaced on WikiLeaks two months after the meeting. The Dutch and French governments also provided intelligence to their US counterparts, the Times reported.
It is not clear what Mr Papadopoulos told Mr Downer, soon to be replaced in Britain by former attorney-general George Brandis, during their conversation. But 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.
Mr Trump has slammed Mr Papadopoulos as a “low-level volunteer” who “has already proven to be a liar” despite previously describing him as “an excellent guy”.
Mr Downer yesterday refused to comment on the situation “because the matter is before an investigation in the US”. A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman also declined to comment.
The London meeting came a month after Mr Papadopoulos met Russian nationals and requested information on the Clinton campaign that would help Mr Trump’s election bid.
In April 2016, London-based academic Joseph Mifsud, who had “substantial connections to Russian government officials”, told Mr Papadopoulos the Russians had “dirt” on Mrs Clinton in “thousands of emails”.
Australian authorities rep-ortedly told US investigators about the conversation after WikiLeaks, headed by Julian Assange, began releasing thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. It is believed to have been part of a concerted effort designed to harm Clinton’s White House run.
Mr Assange, whom Mrs Clinton has recently accused of colluding with Russian intelligence to disrupt the election, said he opposed the prospect of a Clinton presidency. Despite the US Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Intelligence on Election Security declaring intelligence officials were “confident” the Russian government had directed the hacking, Mr Assange has repeatedly denied they were the source.
Mr Trump initially said the hacked emails could be the work of “Russia, but it could also be China … it could also be lots of other people”. He has since acknowledged Russia may have been behind the hack, which is being investigated by former FBI director Robert Mueller, leading to a rise in tensions between Washington and Moscow. Other Trump staffers, including former nat-ional security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign manager Paul Manafort have been implicated in the investigation.
Mr Flynn has pleaded guilty to making false and fraudulent statements to the FBI about his contact with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Mr Manafort has been indicted on charges of conspiring against the US and being an unregistered agent of a foreign principle. He has pleaded not guilty.