A former senior official in the George W. Bush administration said revelations about Australia’s role in the Trump-Russia probe opens a new set of problems for the White House.
Australian officials aren’t happy that U.S. officials had identified their British ambassador as playing a key role in launching the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, reported The Age.
But they confirmed a bombshell New York Times report that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told British ambassador Alexander Downer over drinks in May 2016 that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton that came from hacked emails.
After those emails were dumped online in July 2016, Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., Joe Hockey, personally contacted the FBI to report what Papadopoulos had revealed to the diplomat two months earlier in London.
The Age reported that Downer had conveyed the conversation to Australian officials via official cable, but apparently not immediately.
“(Downer) gives this story of Trump campaign collusion with Russia a new level of credibility that will be problematic for the White House,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is scheduled to visit the U.S. next month, but he’s “not at all” worried that new reporting on his nation’s role in launching the probe would damage his relationship with President Donald Trump.
“Trump has attacked sources like this in the past,” said Green, a Bush foreign policy adviser and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, “and it would not be surprising if he did so this time — though I think the US-Australia alliance and intel relationship can easily weather this.”
Another foreign policy expert said Downer and the Australian government appeared to have handled the highly sensitive matter “entirely appropriately.”
“Given the febrile political environment in Washington, D.C., particularly when it comes to anything relating to Russian election interference and the [Robert] Mueller investigation, it’s regrettable but not terribly surprising that details of Downer’s encounter with Papadopoulos have become public,” said Andrew Shearer, a senior national security and foreign affairs adviser to former Australian prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott who is now with CSIS.