The Trump administration solicited numerous foreign officials in their effort to discredit former special counsel Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation, according to reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Trump “pushed” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrisson to help Attorney General Bill Barr gather information for a Justice Department investigation that Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller probe, The Times reported.
The White House restricted access to the transcript of the call, as they did with the infamous Ukraine call, according to the report. Trump called Morrison at Barr’s request.
Barr has asked Trump to facilitate communications with foreign officials and made at least one trip to Italy to negotiate their cooperation, The Times reported.
“Trump was in effect asking the Australian government to investigate itself,” The Time reported. “F.B.I. investigators began examining Trump ties to Russia’s 2016 election interference after Australian officials reported that Russian intermediaries had made overtures to Trump advisers about releasing information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
A Morrison spokesman told The Times that “the Australian government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation.”
“The P.M. confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the president,” he added.
Barr met with Italian, UK officials:
Barr has “made overtures” to British intelligence officials and traveled to Italy last week where he and US Attorney John Durham met with senior Italian officials, whom Barr asked to help Durham, The Washington Post reported.
Durham is conducting an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
The trip was not Barr’s first to meet with Italian intelligence officials, The Post reported.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley defended the overtures.
“I’m old enough to remember when Democrats actually wanted to find out what happened in the 2016 election,” he said. “The Democrats clearly don’t want the truth to come out anymore as it might hurt them politically, but this call relates to a DOJ inquiry publicly announced months ago to uncover exactly what happened. The DOJ simply requested the President provide introductions to facilitate that ongoing inquiry, and he did so, that’s all.”
Barr’s involvement draws scrutiny:
David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who was previously part of the Russia probe, told The Post that it was “fairly unorthodox for the attorney general personally to be flying around the world as a point person to further evidence-gathering for a specific Justice Department investigation.”
“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,” Laufman said. “But if the attorney general is essentially running this investigation, that entire premise is out the window.”