US President Donald Trump tried to pressure the Australian prime minister to help Attorney General William Barr investigate the origins of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, according to a New York Times report.
Trump initiated the call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in recent weeks to request the country’s help as the Justice Department reviewed Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in US elections, two US officials with knowledge of the call told the Times.
A Justice Department official confirmed to NBC that Trump asked Morrison for help in a call.
“The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation,” the spokesperson reportedly said. “The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President.”
The White House restricted access to the call’s transcript to a small group of aides, according to the Times — a decision similar to one it made in regard to Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the center of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The Australia call shows another instance of Trump using high-level US diplomacy for potential personal gain. The president had long looked to discredit Mueller’s investigation, which found that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump’s campaign. It also shows Trump’s desire to involve Barr in such requests, a move that comes on top of Democrats’ accusations that the attorney general is working for the president and not for the US.
Barr, who was appointed in December, launched the Justice Department’s review of the Russia investigation earlier this year to find out whether the FBI or intelligence officials acted inappropriately to investigate whether Trump’s campaign worked with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.
Soon after the Times report was published, The Washington Post reported that Barr has been personally holding private meetings abroad with foreign intelligence officials in multiple countries to request help with the Justice Department’s review of the Mueller probe.
According to the Post, Barr has already reached out to British intelligence officials and last week met senior Italian officials to ask them to assist U.S. Attorney John Durham, a Trump appointee whom Barr had assigned to lead the review. The requests were similar to the Australia request, the newspaper reported.
Durham “is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec told HuffPost.
According to Kupec, the president contacted other countries to ask them to introduce Barr and Durham to appropriate officials “at Attorney General Barr’s request.” The attorney general is appointed by and works under the president.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told HuffPost in a statement that the Justice Department “simply requested that the President provide introductions to facilitate” the department’s review of the Russia investigation.
“I’m old enough to remember when Democrats actually wanted to find out what happened in the 2016 election,” Gidley said. “The Democrats clearly don’t want the truth to come out anymore as it might hurt them politically, but this call relates to a DOJ inquiry publicly announced months ago to uncover exactly what happened.”
In Trump’s call with Zelensky, the US president pressured the newly elected Ukrainian leader to do him a “favor” by working with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Barr to investigate potential 2020 rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. That call came just after Trump suspended nearly $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine.
A bombshell complaint by a whistleblower within the intel community alleged that White House officials moved the transcript of that call to a secret server used for classified information.
Trump spoke to Morrison at Barr’s request, according to the Justice Department. The call with Australia reportedly came just weeks after Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Australia has ties to the Mueller probe because the FBI’s Russia investigation began after Australian officials told the bureau that the Russian government made an offer to the Trump campaign about releasing dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival.
Australian officials told the FBI about the offer after the country’s top diplomat in Britain met with George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, who told the diplomat that he was told Russia had thousands of stolen emails that would politically damage Clinton’s campaign.
As the Times reported, Trump’s recent request to Australia was basically asking the country to investigate itself.
This article has been updated with comments from the White House and the Australian government.