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Donald Trump

Spilled details from Downer’s ‘heavy drinking’ session won’t damage ties with US, says Australian PM

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 9:04pm

The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has not denied a report that information from senior diplomat Alexander Downer helped spark the FBI investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

On Monday Turnbull conceded he had not talked to anyone in the Trump administration since The New York Times story detailing Downer’s role in the investigation broke. But Turnbull said he was not at all worried his relationship with Donald Trump had been damaged.

Turnbull said Australia’s relationship with America was “in excellent shape”.

“The government won’t be making additional comments on a matter that relates to an ongoing investigation in the US,” he said, when asked about Downer’s role. “So we’ve got nothing further to add to that.”

Citing numerous unnamed sources, The New York Times said Downer had drinks with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in London in May 2016, during which the campaign aide mentioned Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

The Australian government reportedly passed that information to American authorities in July 2016, after a cache of emails from the Democratic campaign was released.

The information from one of America’s strongest intelligence allies was said to have heavily contributed to the FBI decision to launch an investigation into Russia’s role during the US election. Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI.

The Australian government has not taken any opportunity to deny the reports citing Downer’s involvement, instead pointing to the investigation that is under way. Labor has also declined to comment.

Instead, Turnbull, who famously was told by Trump his was “the most unpleasant phone call” when the pair first spoke in January following Trump’s inauguration, focused on the relationship between the two allies.

The US is yet to appoint a new ambassador to Australia, but Turnbull said that was normal, given the change in administrations.

“In the American system, there are often delays in appointing ambassadors when a new administration comes in, it is not a matter of concern,” he said. “The relationship is in excellent shape and the connections between Australia and the United States are so diverse and numerous, so strong and indeed, our relationship through the State Department is excellent as well.”

Downer, formerly Australia’s longest serving foreign minister, in the conservative Howard government, has been held up as a “hero” on social media by critics of Trump.

Having been Australia’s man in Britain since 2014, Downer is due to leave Australia House when his term expires in March, to make way for the former attorney general George Brandis.