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Australia Morrison cool on giving cables to US probe but says there's 'nothing to hide'

11:15  02 october  2019
11:15  02 october  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has poured cold water on the "very unusual" idea of releasing Australian diplomatic cables to a US probe into the investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election.

Mr Morrison countered suggestions that confidential Australian material could be released to a Department of Justice inquiry after US President Donald Trump sought help for the probe in a phone call with the Prime Minister three weeks ago.

But Mr Morrison did not rule out giving secret government documents to the US investigators, saying Australia had "nothing to hide" in the process.

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And he appeared open to the idea that the inquiry might question former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who played a key role in alerting Australian and US officials to Russian activities.

Mr Morrison said it would be "very unusual" for the Australian government to hand over diplomatic cables to the US probe.

"It would be a very unusual thing to do and Australia would never do anything that would prejudice our national interest," he said in a Sky News interview.

Asked if the US authorities would want access to Mr Downer, the Prime Minister said Australia would "cooperate" with those sorts of requests and it could be dealt with by officials.

"I'm not sitting there providing an hour by hour clearance on every single request – our officials are quite capable of managing what are fairly non-controversial matters," he said.

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"No information should be shared that is contrary to Australia's national interest, and none will be."

As for any further inquiry into Australia's own actions, Mr Morrison said Australia's conduct was "not in question".

"We've got nothing to hide. We're not the subject of this investigation, nor are we a party to it," he said.

Mr Morrison has been urged to provide "clear answers" about his offer to assist a divisive United States inquiry into the FBI after he confirmed a phone call from Mr Trump in early September seeking Australian assistance for the probe.

A key question is the role played by Mr Downer in telling authorities a Trump aide, George Papadopolous, said Russia had "dirt" on Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.

Mr Downer, then the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, met Mr Papadopoulos on 10 May 2016 and relayed details of the conversation to Canberra the next day. Australian officials notified the FBI of the remarks about "dirt" after the release of Clinton campaign emails in late July.

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Mr Morrison played down any doubts over Mr Downer's part in the affair.

"There's nothing to suggest, that has been put in the public domain, that there is any matter for Alexander Downer to address," Mr Morrison said.

"Nor am I aware of anyone suggesting any inappropriate behaviour by him."

But Mr Papadopoulos has repeatedly claimed that Mr Downer was working for Mr Trump's enemies and recorded the conversation in London.

"Australia: get the heat off of you," Mr Papadopoulos tweeted while Mr Morrison's interview was being aired.

"Release the transcript of my meeting with the Clinton errand boy, Downer. Let the world see that your intel agencies were weaponised against a rival presidential campaign at the behest of the previous administration."

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Mr Papadopoulos was convicted last year of lying to the FBI in its investigation into the Russian interference, including about his contacts with Russian intermediaries, and served 14 days in prison.

When Sky News host David Speers asked Mr Morrison about the claims by Mr Papadopoulos that the conversation with Mr Downer was recorded, the Prime Minister avoided any definitive response.

"It's all very salacious commentary about a meeting which I'm sure whips up peoples' interest, but I'm not going to add to his own breathless commentary on these issues.

"I'll leave the hyperventilation on these matters to others who are far better equipped to practice it."

Speers asked: "You're not aware of a recording, though?"

Mr Morrison said: "These are not matters, frankly, during my time as Prime Minister, that have been recommended to me as requiring any close attention."

Speers asked: "But there's no recording of the conversation as far as you're aware?"

Mr Morrison said: "That's not information that I have available to me and I'll tell you why – because it's not a matter that's ever been raised with me proactively as being a matter that has demanded the attention of the Prime Minister."

US special counsel Robert Mueller concluded in March this year there was "sweeping and systemic" interference by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential campaign, noting "a foreign government" helped the FBI with its investigation but not naming Australia.

Mr Trump said in May he wanted Australia to be part of the new probe.

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