WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump asked Australia's prime minister to help US Attorney General Bill Barr gather information for an inquiry intended to discredit the Mueller investigation, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The newspaper, citing two unidentified US officials, said the request was made during a recent telephone call between Trump and the Australian leader, Scott Morrison.
The Times said the White House restricted access to the transcript of the call in a manner similar to what was done with Trump's recent call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
That call -- during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden -- has led to the opening of an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led House of Representatives.
The Washington Post reported separately that Barr has had multiple meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials in an effort aimed at undermining US intelligence's conclusion that Russian interference helped Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election.
In addition to contacting the Australian leader, Barr has met with British intelligence and last week was in Italy, together with US Attorney John Durham, asking for Rome's help in revisiting the 2016 Russia investigation, according to the newspaper.
The Post said Barr risked appearing to use his powers as head of the US Justice Department to help Trump politically when he is facing impeachment and, potentially, removal from office for abuse of power.
DOJ probing ‘political witch hunt'
Former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election was completed in March with the identification of numerous acts of collusion or attempted collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
But after Mueller ruled there was not enough material for criminal charges, Trump called for another investigation into what he called the Russia "political witch hunt" and "hoax."
The Justice Department chose Durham to examine the roots of the Mueller probe, including the evidence that led the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies to declare that Russia did in fact interfere in 2016 to boost Trump.
Australia and Britain were both important because the original FBI Russia meddling probe was launched in July 2016 after the bureau received a tip from Australian diplomat in England about a meeting between people tied to Russian intelligence and a Trump campaign official.
But Barr's involvement in the Durham investigation has raised questions that it is a partisan political probe.
In a statement, the Justice Department defended the contacts abroad and said Trump's and Barr's role was to help Durham make contacts.
"Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries," said Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec.
"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," she said. — AFP