Trump sought help from Australia on Russia probe origins

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2019 in New York City. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that the House will launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump recently asked the Australian prime minister and other foreign leaders to help Attorney General William Barr with an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that shadowed his administration for more than two years, the Justice Department said Monday.

The revelation underscores the extent to which Trump 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.

Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders — and Barr’s role in those discussions — are under heightened scrutiny now that the House has launched an impeachment inquiry into the president. The probe centers on Trump’s summertime call with Ukraine’s president, in which he presses for help investigating Democrat Joe Biden.

That call is separate from the numerous conversations Trump had with foreign leaders as part of the investigation into the Russia probe. Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Trump made those calls on Barr’s behalf.

“At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials,” Kupec said.

Trump was requesting help for U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of special counsel Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The investigation outraged Trump, who cast it as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Barr traveled to Italy last week with Durham, where the two met with government officials as part of the investigation, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. As part of his investigation, Durham is examining what led the U.S. to open a counterintelligence investigation on the Trump campaign and the roles various countries played in that probe. The attorney general’s presence on the trip exemplifies how much of an active role the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is taking in overseeing the investigation.

Mueller wrapped up his report earlier this year with an inconclusive finding about Trump — the president was not charged with any crimes, but Mueller pointedly said he did not exonerate Trump. The president promptly called for an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe.

Justice officials said that has involved seeking help from numerous foreign countries, including Australia. The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that later became the Mueller probe was triggered, in part, from a tip from an Australian diplomat. George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, had told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, in May 2016 that Russia had thousands of stolen emails that would be potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, had learned from a Maltese professor that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of stolen emails. The FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign later morphed into part of Mueller’s probe.

One official said Trump told Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the attorney general would be contacting his Australian counterpart.

Morrison’s office said in a statement, “The Australian government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation.”

“The P.M. confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President,” the statement said, referring to Morrison.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the 2016 conversation with the professor, Joseph Mifsud, and served a nearly two-week sentence in federal prison.

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