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22 Jan 2018 17:03
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  •   Home > News > International

    Donald Trump aide's booze-fuelled admission to Alexander Downer 'helped spark FBI probe into Russian election interference'

    A night of heavy drinking between a Donald Trump aide and Alexander Downer in a London wine bar is reported to have set off the chain of events which led to the FBI launching an investigation into allegations Russia interfered in the presidential election

    The attacks on US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, have been coming thick and fast. And now Australia's High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer is involved.

    Allies of President Donald Trump have sought to disparage the Russia investigation as a product of the infamous leaked dossier paid for by political rivals and full of lurid allegations about Mr Trump's private life.

    Now the New York Times claims the ball was set rolling after a tip from a trusted ally, with Australia's very own Alexander Downer front and centre.

    The newspaper claims Mr Downer had a night of heavy drinking with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.

    According to the Times, it was Mr Downer who held his booze better — extracting an admission from Mr Papadopoulos that Russia was shopping dirt on Hillary Clinton to her political rivals.

    When leaked Democratic Party emails began appearing in public two months later it is alleged Australian officials passed on the Downer intel to American counterparts, helping to trigger the FBI probe into Russian interference in the US election.

    That probe has morphed into the special counsel investigation led by Mr Mueller and has seen Mr Papadopoulos plead guilty to lying to officials, who he is now cooperating with.

    The significance of Mr Downer's connection

    The political significance of the Downer revelation is that rather than a tip-off from a former spy working for money from political rivals it (allegedly) came from a close ally.

    The Times article was put together from off-the-record accounts and there is no direct attribution or explanation of how the paper proved Mr Downer's role.

    It remains to be seen how it will stand up to scrutiny.

    By the time the Australian intelligence was allegedly handed to the US, leaked emails had already been published clearly targeting Mrs Clinton.

    According to the Times, information from intelligence services in Britain and the Netherlands also contributed to the decision to set up the FBI probe into Russian attempts to influence the election.

    What is clear is the extraordinary scale and the detail of the intelligence leaks Mr Trump complains about.

    Even news of a wine in London will spill out.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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