PM says Australia will co-operate with Trump
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia will co-operate with any request from the US to question Alexander Downer over his meeting with George Papadopoulos, as he labelled Donald Trump's request for help in the Mueller inquiry as "a fairly uneventful conversation".
The inquiry is widely seen as a partisan attempt by the Trump administration to discredit an earlier investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The initial probe was sparked by a tip-off from Mr Downer.
Mr Morrison promised Australia would co-operate with the inquiry during a phone conversation with the US President last month.
The PM told Sky News politcal editor David Speers today that his response was necessary and that the call was a "fairly uneventful conversation".
He said it would been "quite extraordinary for us to deny such co-operation".
"There's been a lot breathless commentary about this, but the facts are quiet simple when it comes to Australia.
"He's undertaking an investigation, the United States is a close ally of Australia, we'd already undertaken to provide co-operation.
"The President, in a fairly brief phone call, followed up on this and we're engaging with that inquiry.
"What other response would Australia have provided to any President?"
Earlier today, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the Prime Minister needed to explain exactly what transpired during that call.
"The Prime Minister needs to make a full statement and not say this is just gossip, not give one of his usual prevarications that we see from this government," he told reporters in Queensland on Wednesday.
"He is ducking and weaving, this prime minister, he's loose with the truth. "He needs to be held to account for this and needs to explain fully to the Australian people what went on here."
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has defended Australia's involvement in the investigation.
"I don't see it as Australia being dragged into a US political issue," she told ABC radio.
"The inquiry, very much like the others which have been ongoing in the United States, is a matter for them.
"We are conducting ourselves as you would expect us to do in these circumstances, we are working in Australia's interests, and we are working with our closest and most important ally.
"We should assist them as we can, we ensure that assistance is appropriate, and that is what we are doing." Senator Payne said it was up to the US to decide if the full transcript of the telephone call would be released.
Mr Downer, Australia's former high commissioner to the UK and the country's longest-serving foreign minister, played a pivotal role in sparking the FBI investigation into Russian interference.
He met with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who told him about damaging Russian information about rival Hillary Clinton.
That conversation was a key trigger for the FBI inquiry.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said Mr Morrison had sacrificed Mr Downer's reputation to indulge the US president's bizarre conspiracy theory. "It's clear that Scott Morrison's thrown Alexander under the bus, there's no question about that," he said.
Australia's ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey, has also formally offered Australia's help with the investigation.
He said while Mr Downer was no longer employed by the government, Australia stood ready to provide the investigation with all relevant information to the inquiry.
Mr Trump's call to Mr Morrison comes after revelations the US president called Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ask for help investigating Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
The US House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump centring on that call.
The FBI's counter intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election began after Australian officials told the bureau that the Russian government had indicated to the Trump campaign that it could release damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Former high commissioner Alexander Downer reportedly met with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos in a London bar, which is when Mr Papadopoulos told Mr Downer he had political dirt on Mrs Clinton.
Mr Downer is believed to have reported what he learned to authorities in Canberra, who in turn told the FBI, which helped spark the sprawling investigation.
Mr Downer acknowledged in an interview with The Australian last year he met with Mr Papadopoulos at a London bar and said Mr Papadopoulos told him Russia had damaging material on Mr Trump's presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
In an interview with Radio National, Mr Downer today confirmed passing on information to the US.
"I just have nothing more to say about it. I had a conversation with this guy (Papadopoulos) and passed on one element about it," Mr Downer said.
Regarding the Morrison-Trump call, Mr Downer said: "I've got nothing to say about it … I don't know anything about the conversations Scott Morrison has had with Donald Trump."
Papadopoulos took a swipe at Mr Downer on Tuesday tweeting: "I have been right about Downer from the beginning. A wannabe spy and Clinton errand boy who is about to get exposed on the world stage. Great reporting, NYTs! Mifsud is next."
He followed up with another tweet: "Bye bye Downer".
In a separate post he said: "First, I testified against both Downer and Mifsud a year ago to help launch Durham's investigation. Now, the fruit of that accurate testimony is exposing the global nature of the attempt to set up the 2016 campaign and interfere in the democratic process. Was my patriotic duty!"
Robert Mueller's investigation confirmed that Australia played a central role in the origins of the original FBI investigation, even if his final report does not mention the country by name.
It said that information from a "foreign government" prompted the FBI to "open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign were co-ordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities".
The Times said there had been unsubstantiated claims that the Obama administration had dispatched Mr Downer to spy on the Trump campaign as part of a broader effort to help Mrs Clinton get elected.
The conspiracy has been advanced by some of the president's allies in congress and in frequent tweets by Mr Papadopoulos.