WASHINGTON — It appears it’s not just Ukraine that President Trump has pressed for politically-advantageous help.
Trump also lobbied Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his assistance in a Department of Justice inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation that “Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation,” the New York Times reported Monday citing two U.S. officials with knowledge of the call.
Both the call and the way White House officials handled it echo the Ukraine scandal, which prompted House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump last week.
Australia played a pivotal role at the onset of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference. It was an Australian diplomat in London who first forwarded comments made by a low-level Trump campaign staffer, George Papadopoulos, to American authorities about the possibility that Russians had obtained emails relating to Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.
In the aftermath of Trump’s call with Morrison, the White House reportedly “restricted access” to its rough transcript to a handful of senior Trump aides –– a decision that the Times described as “unusual.”
A whistleblower who submitted a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general similarly alleged this summer that White House officials limited access to notes of Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During that call, Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor” that involved probing the business dealings of political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Attorney General Bill Barr launched the inquiry into the Mueller probe earlier this year, tasking career prosecutor John Durham with looking into its origins. Barr has suggested there was “spying” on Trump’s campaign that may have been improper. Former DOJ officials and ex-prosecutors have criticized the initiative for having the appearance of a politically-motivated assault on Trump’s enemies, although Durham has also been personally praised as a fair-minded and non-political prosecutor.
“Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec wrote in a statement to VICE News. “At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials.”
The whistleblower’s complaint said that records of Trump’s call with Ukraine were transferred into a super-secure server reserved for codeword-level intelligence information, in a move that intelligence officials called highly unusual. But the complaint says it was “not the first time” Trump’s White House pulled that move with a politically-sensitive presidential transcript.
Cover image: President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison listen to the National Anthem during an State Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)