DOJ’s Durham Interviewed Australian Russia-Probe Figure Downer, Reports Claim

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
November 13, 2019 Updated: December 10, 2019

The team of U.S. Attorney John Durham has interviewed former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, according to two Australian newspapers.

Durham has been tasked by Attorney General William Barr to probe whether the U.S. government had proper reasons for and acted properly in conducting the Russia investigation, which led to extensive spying on associates of Donald Trump both before and after he became president.

Neither of the newspapers, which are owned by News Corp., cited any sources for the information, which hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Downer, a former Australian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, played an important role in the origin story of the Russia investigation, due to information about a May 10, 2016, conversation he had with then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos which was used by the FBI to open the Russia investigation on July 31, 2016, according to a narrative widely reported in the media. Downer said Papadopoulos told him that Russians had information damaging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election.

James Comey, who led the FBI at the time, seemed to confirm the narrative in a December 2018 congressional testimony.

Yet the narrative seems to have been contradicted by the final report of then-special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. According to the report, the investigation was started upon receiving information about a foreign government’s “representative” talking to Papadopoulos on May 6, 2016—four days earlier than previously reported.

The Mueller probe didn’t establish that any Trump associates coordinated with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Based on a Nov. 11 report by The Australian, Durham talked to Downer in October in London. The report also claimed Durham interviewed Downer’s former political counselor, Erika Thompson.

Papadopoulos said Thompson reached out to him via email on May 6, 2016, to arrange the meeting with Downer. He denied telling her anything about Russians having dirt on Clinton. He said he didn’t remember telling this to Downer either.

The discrepancy in the dates is important because the integrity of Russia probe’s launch hinges on the assumption that Papadopoulos had exclusive information that Russians had dirt on Clinton.

On May 10, 2016, that wouldn’t have been the case, because a day earlier, retired Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News that “there’s a debate going on in the Kremlin … about whether they should release the 20,000 of Mrs. Clinton’s emails that they have hacked into.”

The Durham probe has reportedly turned into a criminal investigation and expanded in scope. The Australian government publicly acknowledged cooperation with the probe in an Oct. 2 letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Canberra, however, rejected Graham’s assertion (pdf) that Downer was directed to contact Papadopoulos and relay to the FBI information obtained from Papadopoulos about the Trump campaign.

Papadopoulos accused Downer of spying on him and recording their conversation, which Downer has denied.

During a Nov. 10 interview with Sky News Australia, Downer declined to answer whether he’s been questioned by the FBI. “We want to let the inquiry [by U.S. authorities] take its course,” he said.

He noted that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia will “fully cooperate” with the inquiry by U.S. authorities.

“I’m fully cooperating, it might not come as a surprise, with the Australian government,” Downer added.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade didn’t respond to requests from The Epoch Times for comment.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.