Who the “Australian Diplomat” Is and Why It Matters
by D.J. McGuire
The revelations in The New York Times about the initial phase of the Trump-Russia investigation has been noted for the president’s assertion (without evidence) that the Obama Administration planted a “spy” in the Trump campaign and for the argument over whether an FBI informant should be burned for purposes of transparency (he shouldn’t be, IMHO). For me, however, it was how the probe began that got my attention – in particular, the name of the “Australian diplomat” who tipped off Washington. While he was first revealed several months ago, I saw his name for the first time in the NYT story (run in the Seattle Times).
Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the FBI dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.
Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an FBI interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.
For most Americans, Alexander Downer is just another barely-known Australian, but for me – with my admittedly bizarre obsession with politics in other countries – that name meant a lot more.
Alexander Downer is no civil service functionary; nor is he some politically-connected donor who got the post of Ambassador to the UK as a favor (these are the most commonly perceived reasons for ambassadorial appointments here in the US). He was a major figure in the Australian Liberal Party – the leading party of the coalition currently in power, and a party on the right in Australian politics – for decades. He even led the party briefly in the 1990s. He served as Foreign Minister – the equivalent of Secretary of State here – for over 11 years; he is still the only person to ever serve in that role for more than a decade.
In short, the fellow to whom Mr. Papadopoulos made his boasts is a very experienced politician – who would understand the enormity and the explosiveness of informing a democratically elected government that its opposition may have been compromised by a hostile foreign power – let alone possibly cooperating with said foreign power.
Yet Downer did it anyway, and even agreed to be interviewed by the FBI himself in the summer of 2016. That, if anything, reinforces just how serious this investigation is. An apolitical functionary might be too naive to notice they would be playing with fire; a politically-connected patronage appointee might be too focused on a political angle. A man of Downer’s experience would clearly understand the risks of what he was saying. That he felt he needed to say it anyway should bring even more credibility to the investigation – much more.
D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.