President Trump asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help Attorney General William Barr investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a report from the New York Times.
The Times based its report on two anonymous American officials who claim to have knowledge of the phone conversation between Trump and Morrison. One of these officials said that the transcript of the call was restricted to a small circle of aides, similar to the process carried out regarding the transcript of a call between Trump and Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelentsky, which is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry against Trump.
According to the officials, Trump spoke to Morrison to ask for the Australian government’s cooperation with a Justice Department review of the Mueller investigation. Barr’s investigation focuses on allegations, leveled repeatedly by prominent Republicans since the Mueller investigation began, that the probe was predicated on partisan hostilities to President Trump’s candidacy.
One official said the conversation came at Barr’s request. Former Justice Department officials told the Times that Barr would need to request the cooperation of foreign governments in order to obtain documents relating Barr’s probe of the Mueller investigation.
When asked for comment, a current Justice Department official told NBC that Barr’s request “wasn’t a push. It was an ask.”
“The wasn’t a push,” the DOJ official says. “This was an ask.” @PeteWilliamsNBC reports.
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) September 30, 2019
The Australian government also released a statement regarding the conversation, saying “The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President.”
#breaking from federal government spokesperson: "The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President."
— Andrew Greene (@AndrewBGreene) September 30, 2019
Trump allies have long suggested that the Mueller probe began based on the unverified opposition research dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, but FBI officials involved in the probe maintain that it was prompted by former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos’s meeting with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer.
During a 2016 meeting in London, Papadopoulos reportedly bragged to Downer about how the campaign had obtained incriminating documents on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Downer then passed the information along to the FBI, prompting an investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Kremlin.
Barr is now heading a Justice Department investigation into the origins of the now-dismissed allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
On May 24 of this year President Trump expressed his hope that Barr would look into whatever was needed in order to complete his investigation.
“I hope he looks at the U.K., and I hope he looks at Australia, and I hope he looks at Ukraine. I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country,” Trump told reporters.