FBI agents have interviewed Alexander Downer as part of their investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the US presidential election, according to a new report.
The New York Times said top Australian officials broke diplomatic protocol to allow the agents to question the country’s then-high commissioner to the UK last year, with the results — summarised and sent to Washington on August 2 — laying the foundations for what was then known by its code name, Crossfire Hurricane, and is now special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
The breakthrough stemmed from a night of heavy drinking Mr Downer had with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.
According to a previous Times article, it was Mr Downer who held his booze better — extracting an admission from Mr Papadopoulos that Russia was shopping dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to her political rivals.
When leaked Democratic Party emails began appearing in public two months later it is alleged Australian officials passed on the Alexander Downer intelligence to American counterparts, helping to trigger the FBI probe into Russian interference in the US election.
Court documents unsealed late last year showed that in April 2016 Mr Papadopoulos had met with Joseph Mifsud, a professor in London who he believed to have substantial connections in the Russian Government and who claimed to have “thousands of emails” that would hurt Mrs Clinton.
Mr Papadopoulos had told authorities such contacts occurred before he joined Mr Trump’s campaign.
He has pleaded guilty to lying to officials, who he is now cooperating with.
When the news of his confession broke, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr Papadopoulos’ role was “extremely limited” and “no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign”.
Mr Trump, who in March 2016 described his then-campaign aide as an “excellent guy”, in November labelled him a “low-level volunteer” and “a liar”.
According to the Times, information from intelligence services in Britain and the Netherlands also contributed to the decision to set up the FBI probe into Russian attempts to influence the election.