Apparently the Trump administration’s desire to make the world go along with their conspiracy theories goes far beyond Ukraine and Joe Biden. With the fallout over President Donald Trump‘s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky still ongoing, the New York Times reported Monday that the president also made a request during another recent phone call, this time to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. At U.S. Attorney General William Barr‘s urging, Trump reportedly asked the P.M. to help Barr out with the Department of Justice’s investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation—which just so happens to be based on another right-wing conspiracy theory that could conveniently politically benefit Trump.
Per the Times, Trump reportedly initiated contact with Australia explicitly in order to ask it to participate in the DOJ’s investigation, which began earlier this year. “[This] wasn’t a push,” a DOJ official told NBC News about the call. “This was an ask.” Australia, you may remember, kicked off the FBI’s Russia investigation—which later became the Mueller investigation—by tipping off the intelligence agency to the fact the Russian government had made contact with the Trump campaign regarding damaging information about Hillary Clinton, as relayed to Australian officials by Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Trump’s request, then, is for the Australian government to effectively investigate itself—and while the request differs from the Ukraine call by being part of an existing U.S. investigation, it’s another instance of the president attempting to rope foreign powers into his conspiracy theories. By probing the origins of the Russia investigation, the Trump administration is hoping to confirm the (completely baseless) right-wing talking point that claims the investigation was fueled by anti-Trump bias at the FBI—and discredit the Mueller investigation in the process. (An Australian government spokesperson said in a statement the government was “always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The [prime minister] confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President.”)
And Barr’s international quest to soothe Trump’s ego reportedly goes beyond Australia. ABC News reported Monday that Barr has also asked Trump to introduce him to leaders from Italy and other countries as part of the DOJ’s probe, and the Washington Post reports that Barr “has held private meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials” to ask for their help with the investigation, including in the United Kingdom. (The Italian involvement may be connected to Professor Joseph Mifsud, who informed Papadopoulos about the Russian dirt and whom conspiracy theories believe was a “Western plant” who was “weaponized” by American intelligence agencies.) The Justice Department has said that these meetings are a normal part of the investigation, with sources telling the Post that Barr has simply been introducing foreign officials to U.S. Attorney John Durham, who’s conducting the investigation. “Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “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.”
Barr’s personal involvement in the attempt to discredit the Mueller probe and conveniently benefit his boss has raised eyebrows, though, with the Post noting that intelligence and law enforcement officials have expressed “frustration and alarm” over Barr “taking such a direct role” in the president’s “conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct.” “Even if one questions, as a threshold matter, the propriety of conducting a re-investigation of the Justice Department’s own prior investigation of Russia’s interference, the appointment of John Durham—a seasoned, nonpartisan prosecutor—provided some reason to believe that it would be handled in a professional, nonpartisan manner,” former Justice Department official David Laufman told the Post. “But if the attorney general is essentially running this investigation, that entire premise is out the window.” And there’s reason to think that the Trump administration realizes that there’s some impropriety behind their actions: Per the Times, much like with the Ukrainian phone call, the White House has restricted access to the transcript of Trump’s Australia conversation.
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