Downer to be probed over ‘US’ biggest political crime’

 

Alexander Downer's role in sparking what US President Donald Trump called "the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA" is set to be examined by a powerful US Senate committee.

Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced on Thursday, local time, he will lead in-depth hearings next month into the FBI's controversial counterintelligence Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

The FBI launched the covert probe into Trump-Russia links in July 2016 after Downer alleged former Trump aide George Papadopoulos told him at a London bar, Russia might use damaging information on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the November 2016 election.

Former Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer’s role in the political scandal will be investigated. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Former Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer’s role in the political scandal will be investigated. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Former Liberal Party Leader and ex-Minster for Foreign Affairs Downer was the Australian High Commissioner to the UK at the time.

"The Judiciary Committee will begin holding multiple, in-depth congressional hearings regarding all things related to Crossfire Hurricane starting in early June," Graham said.

Trump has publicly pressured Graham to hold a hearing into what he has dubbed the "Russia Hoax".

In a Thursday morning tweet the president called for his predecessor, Barack Obama, to be a witness.

"If I were a Senator or Congressman, the first person I would call to testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR, is former President Obama," Trump wrote.

"He knew EVERYTHING.

"Do it @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it.

"No more Mr. Nice Guy."

 

DOWNER 'PROMPTED' TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

US Special Counsel Bob Mueller concluded in his report into potential Trump-Russian ties that the London bar meeting between Downer and Papadopoulos prompted the FBI to open Crossfire Hurricane two months later.

Downer was Australia's high commissioner to the UK at the time. Downer claims Papadopoulos told him over gin and tonics "the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging".

President Donald Trump speaks after a tour of a medical supply company. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump speaks after a tour of a medical supply company. Picture: AP

Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to a 14-day prison sentence in 2018 for lying to the FBI, denies offering the sensitive information to Downer. Graham said the first phase of his committee's hearings will focus on the Justice Department's effort to dismiss a criminal case against Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Graham played down the prospect of Obama being called as a witness during the hearings, noting the precedent it would set.

"Both presidents are welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other," Graham said.

"If nothing else it would make for great television.

"However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country."

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Picture: AP
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Picture: AP

 

Mr Trump's tweet came after declassified documents revealed a list of 23 Obama-era officials who requested that Mr Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn be "unmasked" in intelligence reports regarding calls with the Russian ambassador in 2016.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, and intelligence chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper were among those named in the declassified documents.

 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, and intelligence chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper were among those named in the declassified documents.

Mr Trump has claimed Mr Obama was the mastermind of an alleged plan to undermine his administration during his early days in office which led to the Mueller investigation which dogged the early days of the Trump presidency.

He has dubbed the alleged conspiracy "Obamagate."

But Senator Graham expressed reluctance to go so far as calling Obama to testify.

Former Vice President Joe Biden. Picture: AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden. Picture: AP

 

 

He said he is "greatly concerned about the precedent that would be set by calling a former president for oversight."

"No president is above the law," Mr Graham said.

"However, the presidency has executive privilege claims against other branches of government. ... As to the Judiciary Committee, both presidents are welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other.

"If nothing else it would make for great television. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country."

Nevertheless, Mr Graham said that his panel will "begin holding multiple, in-depth congressional hearings regarding all things related to Crossfire Hurricane starting in early June."

Crossfire Hurricane was the FBI's internal code name for the investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign were co-ordinating or colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Picture: Getty
Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Picture: Getty

 

Other declassified documents revealed that Mr Obama knew about Mr Flynn's phone calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016.

Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the phone call in December 2017.

US Attorney-General William Barr announced last week that the Department of Justice moved to drop charges against Mr Flynn.

 

DEMS WANT USA 'CLOSED' UNTIL ELECTION

President Trump said he believes some of his political foes want to keep the country closed going into the November election, as he leads the push to restart the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to Fox Business, the commander in chief described the desire by his Democratic rivals as "a political thing," to boost their own chances in the 2020 presidential election.

Pressed on arguments made by Democratic governors and Congressional leaders that he was putting money and business ahead of saving lives, Mr Trump rejected the criticism.

"The people that want to see the right thing happen, they agree with me. We have to get our country open," he said, adding that if it was up to "some people," likely referencing his critics, the economy would be kept closed "for a long time" and the US would "go down the tubes".

The president said he wanted states "to open when they can, when they want," and that most states "are either opened or opening or considering it."

"I think that we have to get back to work, we have to get our country back. We have to take it back, it was artificially closed. … We did the right thing and now we've got to get back, we've got to bring our country back and it's going to happen and it's going to happen fast. I call it 'a transition to greatness.'"

Arguing his view that the nation's economy needs to be reopened, Mr Trump went on to predict that the third quarter of the fiscal year would be a "transition quarter" for the economy. He then predicted that the US would do well in the fourth quarter.

Originally published as Downer to be probed over 'US' biggest political crime'


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