Donald Trump called Scott Morrison in September seeking Australia’s assistance in a Justice Department inquiry. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)
Labor is intensifying its demands for the Prime Minister to release the transcript of a conversation with Donald Trump, accusing Scott Morrison of cosying up to the US President at the expense of Australia’s national interest.
- US President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September seeking Australia’s help
- He’s launched an inquiry into the origins of the Mueller investigation, which he’s repeatedly dubbed a “witch hunt”
- Labor is demanding answers from Mr Morrison, but Foreign Minister Marise Payne says he’s acted appropriately
Mr Morrison’s call with Mr Trump attracted international attention after it was revealed the US President had asked for Australia’s help in investigating the origins of the Mueller probe into Russian election interference.
Australia’s former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, helped trigger the initial FBI investigation into Mr Trump’s links with Russia, well before Mr Morrison became Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister needs to explain what exactly went on here. He needs to release any transcript or information which is out there,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said.
“This is quite extraordinary. These revelations are of concern.
“The Prime Minister needs to make a full statement and not say ‘this is just gossip’, [and] not give one of his usual prevarications.”
Mr Morrison’s office yesterday confirmed the Prime Minister, in a call with Mr Trump in September, had agreed to assist the US Justice Department and Attorney-General William Barr with his inquiry.
The call came months after Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, had written to Mr Barr to offer support.
Just weeks after the call, Mr Morrison travelled to the United States, where he met Mr Trump in Washington and Ohio.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne defended Australia’s handling of Mr Trump’s request.
“I don’t see it as Australia being dragged into a US political issue. The inquiry, very much like the others which have been ongoing in the United States, is a matter for them,” she said.
“We’re conducting ourselves as you would expect us to do in these circumstances — we are working in Australia’s interests.”
Senator Payne said Australia was ready to co-operate as appropriate, however she would not comment on exactly what that would involve.
Trump demanding answers on Mueller ‘witch hunt’
In May, Mr Trump instructed Mr Barr to investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation, including allegations law enforcement illegally spied on the Trump campaign in 2016.
He said he hoped Mr Barr would seek answers from Australia, the United Kingdom and Ukraine.
The President has repeatedly dubbed the two-year Mueller probe a “witch hunt”.
The investigation found there was no evidence Mr Trump’s election campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election, but stopped short of exonerating him from obstruction of justice.
Prior to the Mueller probe, the FBI had looked into Mr Trump’s links with Russia.
That investigation was prompted after Mr Downer alerted authorities to reports that Russians might use damaging material they had on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US presidential election.
Mr Trump’s allies have defended the conversation with Mr Morrison as routine and proper.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who spent the weekend golfing with Mr Trump, was among those who insisted Australia had already offered its help prior to Mr Trump’s call with Mr Morrison, citing Mr Hockey’s letter as proof of that.
“It’s clear to me that liberals are starting an attack against Barr to shut him down from going to Italy, Australia and the UK to find out if there was something wrong regarding opening up the investigation of the Trump campaign to begin with,” he said.
“If that’s not a double standard I don’t know what would be.
“These countries should be cooperating with Barr. There’s nothing wrong for Barr to be looking into this. In fact, it would be wrong if he didn’t.”