Alexander Downer, the former Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. (YouTube screen capture/CISAus)
By Chuck Ross
The Australian diplomat whose barroom conversation with a Trump campaign adviser was the catalyst for the FBI’s collusion investigation is refusing to talk about the case, saying that discussing his involvement would be detrimental to the relationship between the U.S. and Australia.
During a Monday interview on Australian television, Alexander Downer, who served as Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom until earlier this year, was asked for the first time publicly about his May 2016 conversation with George Papadopoulos.
That conversation, which occurred at Kensington Gardens in London, is said to have led the FBI to open its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. That’s because Downer reportedly claimed that Papadopoulos discussed Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton. (RELATED: In Private, George Papadopoulos Denies Collusion)
“Did you meet with George Papadopoulos in the Kensington Wine Bar in May of 2016? And if so, what did he say to you?” host Ellen Fanning asked the diplomat.
“Well, let me be blunt about this,” Downer began. “Of course, it has been widely reported that I did. But I don’t think talking about it is going to help our relationship with the United States or make any contribution that will advance Australia’s interests.”
He went on to say that questions about whether Russia had a relationship with the Trump team are “a toxic issue in American politics.”
“I don’t think any of us really want to be dragged into that any more than we can help,” he continued, adding that he did not believe it was in Australia’s interests to be seen playing in American politics.
Downer also declined to say whether he has been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion involving the Trump campaign.
“It’s exactly the sort of question that I definitely wouldn’t answer,” Downer said when asked if he’s met with Mueller’s team.
Papadopoulos, 30, has pleaded guilty to Mueller’s prosecutors. On Oct. 5, 2017, he acknowledged that he lied to FBI agents about the timing of conversations he had with a Maltese professor and two Russian nationals.
Joseph Mifsud, the professor, told Papadopoulos during an April 26, 2016 meeting in London that he had been told by Russian government officials that Russia had “thousands” of Clinton emails. It is still not clear whether Papadopoulos told anyone on the Trump campaign about Mifsud’s claim. Sources close to Papadopoulos told TheDCNF that he believed that Mifsud was referring to the highly-publicized 30,000 emails that Clinton deleted from her private email server.
Though Papadopoulos has admitted lying about his encounters with Mifsud, sources close to the former Trump aide say that he is privately denying taking part in any collusion scheme.
Little is known about the Papadopoulos-Downer conversation, which was first reported by The New York Times at the end of December. Downer reportedly passed details of the conversation to other Aussie government officials. That information was passed to the FBI more than two months after the meeting. The bureau opened its counterintelligence probe on July 31, 2016.
The Daily Caller News Foundation recently reported that Papadopoulos was introduced to Downer through Erika Thompson, a diplomat with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She was with Downer and Papadopoulos during their visit to Kensington Gardens, which occurred on May 10, 2016.