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Australia rejects Graham's description of diplomat's role in FBI's 2016 election probe

“In your letter you made mention of the role of an Australian diplomat. We reject your characterization,” writes Australia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Image: Joe Hockey
Australia's ambassador to the U.S., Joe Hockey, has reiterated Australia’s cooperation with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the FBI's Russia probe.Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images file

Australia has pushed back against Sen. Lindsey Graham's description of the role of an Australian diplomat in the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“In your letter you made mention of the role of an Australian diplomat. We reject your characterization of his role,” wrote Australia’s ambassador to the Washington, Joe Hockey, in a letter to Graham on Wednesday. He released the letter on Thursday morning on Twitter.

“As you have requested, we will work closely with the Attorney General to resolve any misunderstandings in this matter,” he continued.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, on Wednesday requested “continued cooperation” from Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

Graham in his letter highlighted the U.S. intelligence communities' acceptance of information from an Australian diplomat who he says was “directed to contact” President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign adviser for foreign policy, George Papadopoulos, and then relay information received from him about the campaign to the FBI.

In special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the election, he noted that Papadopoulos had gone to a London bar to have drinks with an Australian diplomat in May 2016.

While there, Papadopoulos reportedly told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, that he'd heard that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass then-candidate Trump's rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Australian government then reported Papadopoulos' remarks to the FBI — sparking a nearly two-year investigation that spanned the globe and roiled the Trump administration.

In his response to Graham, Hockey also reiterated Australia’s cooperation with Barr’s investigation.

Earlier in the week, NBC News confirmed that Trump had sought help from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to investigate the origins of Mueller's Russia investigation.

Morrison on Wednesday described his September phone call with Trump as a "fairly uneventful conversation."

The prime minister said that Australia is unlikely to provide the U.S. with internal government communications with Downer.

Trump's interactions with foreign leaders are under increased scrutiny now that the House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry into the president.

The probe centers on allegations that during a July call Trump pushed the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

A whistleblower's complaint made public last week says White House officials were so concerned about what the president said during the conversation that they intervened to "lock down" the transcript of the conversation.

The whistleblower, whose name and gender has not been released, lodged the formal complaint out of a belief that Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country" in the 2020 election.