Calling himself a “warrior for the Western alliance,” former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer defended sending in the tip that sparked the FBI’s investigation of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
In his most extensive interview on the topic to date, Downer gave his version of a conversation he had with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in London in May 2016 that would serve as the catalyst for the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
Downer, who served as Australia’s top diplomat to the U.K. at the time, provided a memo he wrote following the meeting to the FBI more than two months later. According to Downer, Papadopoulos mentioned that Russia might have information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that they could release before the 2016 election.
Downer disputed claims that the ex-diplomat was part of a conspiracy to entrap the campaign adviser.
“I don’t know why he told me this, but he did, and we reported it. And the rest is history,” Downer said in an interview on Sky News.
“There’s no defense for him saying it’s some sort of weird conspiracy. I mean, it’s what he told me.”
“I have no idea why he was blabbering this, but if you say that sort of thing to somebody who is part of the Five Eyes intelligence community, I mean I would regard myself as a warrior for the Western alliance,” said Downer, who is now out of government.
Five Eyes refers to an intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
While Downer was critical of Papadopoulos, he said that there was no indication from his May 2016 conversation that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to steal or release any Clinton information.
“There was no suggestion from Papadopoulos nor in the record of the meeting that we sent back to Canberra, there was no suggestion that there was collusion between Donald Trump or Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians,” Downer said.
“All we did is report what Papadopoulos said, and that was that he thought that the Russians may release information, might release information, that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign at some stage before the election.”
Republicans have questioned whether the Papadopoulos tip was sufficient to merit a full-fledged FBI investigation. Papadopoulos was never charged with any conspiracy involving Russia. There is also no evidence that he saw, handled or disseminated any Clinton emails. He did plead guilty on Oct. 5, 2017 to making false statements about his interactions with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor.
Papadopoulos claims that on April 26, 2016, Mifsud told him during a meeting in London that the Russian government had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails. Papadopoulos has denied telling anyone on the Trump campaign about Mifsud’s remarks.
He has also said he has no recollection of sharing the information from Mifsud with Downer. Papadopoulos met with Downer and another Australian diplomat, Erika Thompson, at the Kensington Wine Room in London on May 10, 2016.
Papadopoulos, who lived in London at the time, had met Thompson several weeks earlier. He’s said that Thompson contacted him to set up the meeting with Downer.
Downer said in the interview that he had no expectation that Papadopoulos would bring up Russia’s election-related activities.
“Now, he didn’t have to tell me that,” Downer said.
“I didn’t go to the meeting thinking he was even going to mention Russia in the context of the election campaign. I had no idea what he would say.”
Papadopoulos has speculated that Mifsud and Downer were working with Western intelligence agencies when they met with him. Though the special counsel portrayed Mifsud as having Russian ties, the mystery professor also had close links to Western diplomats and intelligence agencies.
Papadopoulos was contacted by one known FBI informant, Stefan Halper, in September 2016. Halper offered Papadopoulos $3,000 and a trip to London to write a paper on Mediterranean energy security issues. Halper was accompanied on the mission by a government investigator who worked under the alias Azra Turk.
Papadopoulos has said that Halper and Turk asked him whether he knew whether the Trump campaign and Russia were working together to release emails, but he said he did not.
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