CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday that his country is unlikely to provide the United States with internal government communications with an Australian diplomat who is partially responsible for triggering the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election.
President Donald Trump recently asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other foreign leaders to help U.S. Attorney General William Barr with an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that was triggered in part by a tip from an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.
Morrison said he had agreed to cooperate with the inquiry during a phone conversation with Trump last month.
But Morrison indicated Australia was unlikely to provide Downer’s diplomatic communications about the matter to the U.S. investigators.
“It would be a very unusual thing to do and Australia would never do anything that would prejudice our national interest,” Morrison told Sky News Australia.
The revelation this week that Trump had asked world leaders for help in Barr’s investigation underscores the extent to which the president remains consumed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the ways in which he has used the apparatus of the United States government to investigate what he believes are its politically motivated origins. It also highlights Barr’s hands-on role in leading that investigation, including traveling overseas for personal meetings with foreign law enforcement officials.
Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders — and Barr’s role in those discussions — are under heightened scrutiny now that the U.S. House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry into the president. The probe centers on Trump’s call this summer with Ukraine’s president, revealed by a whistleblower CIA intelligence officer, in which Trump presses for help investigating Democrat Joe Biden.
Australia’s ambassador to Washington had formally offered Australia’s help with the investigation back in May.
Morrison on Wednesday described his September phone call with Trump as a “fairly uneventful conversation.”
“The president contacted me and asked for a point of contact between the Australian government and the U.S. attorney, which I was happy to do on the basis that it was something we had already committed to do,” Morrison said.
“It would have been, I think, frankly more surprising had we chosen not to cooperate,” he added.
Morrison said Trump did not phrase the request as a “favor.”
“I’ve had many conversations with the president and it was a very brief conversation and it was not one that I’d characterize as being laden with pressure,” Morrison said.
“It was a fairly polite request for something the Australian government had already made pretty clear we were happy to do,” Morrison added.
The opposition has questioned whether Morrison is drawing Australia into a U.S. domestic political battle and has demanded a transcript of the phone conversation.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said whether a transcript was made public was a question for the United States.