Former Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer evaded questions during a recent BBC interview regarding suggestions made by George Papadopoulos that Downer may have been recording his conversations in an effort to spy on the then-Trump campaign volunteer.
The answers to those questions would be significant because they would reveal the extent of other nation’s efforts in cooperating with the FBI’s counterintelligence operation on President Donald Trump’s campaign, say U.S. officials that spoke to SaraACarter.com. The information–if it was used–would be part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant’s package of evidence presented to the secret court, said one former and one current U.S. official.
When interviewed by the BBC last week, Downer would not directly address questions regarding Papadopoulos’ claims that he may have been spying on him or possibly recording the meeting that took place in London in May 2016. Downer said, “the reason I don’t say anything about it…is I don’t want this whole issue of Donald Trump and his team and the Russians and so on to interfere in Australia’s relationship with the United States.”
He told the BBC that the issue was “toxic,” and despite being pressed multiple times, still did not answer the question, saying, “in terms of public commentary, I just keep right away from it…Well, you know, it’s the same answer, really, people who know me know very well the truth of what sort of person I am…I’ve worked very passionately for Australia over many years, let’s leave it at that.”
The host then again asked, “Can we put to rest the fact that he said you were a spy?”
“I was the Australian high commissioner,” Downer said. “The thing is, I’m just not going to get into these sort of allegations he’s made. I mean, people who have worked with me, and people in Australia who know me, know absolutely my record.”
This wasn’t the only time the question has been posed to senior diplomats or U.S. officials.
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in February, former CIA Director John Brennan was asked a similar question about information that may have been obtained from allied nations regarding Trump campaign officials.
Todd asked if “the Papadopoulos thing (came) through the CIA via the Five Eyes thing? That would have been a piece of information that gets to the FBI? Is that how that works?” The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States to share intelligence gathered by each respective nation. As for the United Kingdom and the U.S. a separate and similar agreement exists dubbed “the Special Relationship,” which was established in 1946 and “allows the nation’s to share a lot of collected intelligence, among other things,” the former U.S. official added.
Brennan did not answer the question directly but instead stated, “Now I’m not going to get into details about how it was acquired. But the F.B.I. has a very close relationship with its British counterparts.” He continued, “And so the F.B.I. had visibility into a number of things that were going on involving some individuals who may have had some affiliation with the Trump campaign. And so the intelligence that we collected was pulsed against that. And I thought it would have been derelict if the F.B.I. did not pull the threads, investigative threads, on American persons who might have been involved with Russia and working on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.”
According to the FBI, it was the meeting between Papadopoulos and Downer (which was orchestrated by a hodgepodge of characters whom Papadopoulos didn’t know prior) in May that launched the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign. It was another London-based Australian diplomat by the name of Erika Thompson who introduced the young foreign policy advisor to Downer in April 2016. But, Thompson only met Papadopoulos after Israeli diplomat, Christian Cantor introduced them after he publicly chided British Prime Minister David Cameron in an interview with The Times of London, saying the PM should apologize for calling Trump “divisive, stupid and wrong.”
Papadopoulos did not talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails but stated only that Russia had derogatory information on then-presidential candidate Clinton, according to several interviews given by Downer.
Downer also stated in an interview with The Australian, “nothing [Papadopoulos] said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton. It was just that this guy, [Papadopoulos], clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton — but whether Trump knew or not,” Downer explained.
He told The Australian that Papadopoulos “didn’t say Trump knew or that Trump was in any way involved in this. He said it was about Russians and Hillary Clinton; it wasn’t about Trump.”
Since Papadopoulus pled guilty to one count of lying to the FBI, he has been more vocal about his concerns regarding Downer’s intentions (as well as other officials) who befriended him during his time in London. He recently tweeted that Downer needed to be “as exposed as Christopher Steele” and on Tuesday, he wrote that he was looking forward to testifying before Congress about his experience.
Congressmen Feel Blindsided by Trump’s Decision to not Declassify Key FISA Documents
On Friday, congressional members who have been battling the Department of Justice and the FBI over documents associated with the Trump-Russia investigation were stunned when President Trump backtracked his decision to declassify roughly 21 pages of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants. In tweets, the president said “key allies” have asked him not to declassify the documents, and said he asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review them first. The documents would have included new information on short-term Trump campaign volunteer, Carter Page, DOJ official Bruce Ohr, and the so-called Gang of Eight packet on the Russia investigation which has already been reviewed by some congressional members.
I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release. Therefore, the Inspector General…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
….has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me – and everyone!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Lawmakers who spoke to SaraACarter.com are stunned and say they were blindsided by Trump’s decision to turn over the documents to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
The lawmakers would like to know who the “key allies” are who asked the president not to release the documents. They also wonder why the President would change his mind so quickly regarding the declassification of the documents, which–according to one congressional official involved in the investigation,–“would expose the true nature of the investigation and end this charade being conducted by the DOJ once and for all.”
White House officials did not immediately respond for comment.
Current and former U.S. officials believe the president’s reversal on the declassification may have something to do with allied nations collecting information on Trump campaign officials while they were overseas during President Obama’s tenure.
One former US. official with counter intelligence investigation knowledge said the declassification of the documents could reveal that the investigation may have started earlier than the official FBI date of July 31, 2016. It might also expose that other foreign intelligence agencies were involved in collecting information on the Trump campaign; or possibly, both.