U.S., Australia to bolster police ties as they cooperate on 2016 election probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Australia said on Monday they would work to bolster law-enforcement ties as the two countries are separately cooperating on a politically charged probe examining whether U.S. officials overstepped when they investigated Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton met in Washington to begin negotiating an agreement that would enable police to obtain faster access to electronic evidence in the other country.

U.S. officials are also working on a similar agreement with the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The agreement comes as Barr and Trump have been pressing other governments to help out with a review of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ actions as they investigated Trump’s 2016 campaign for possible ties to Russia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he agreed to help out Barr with the inquiry when Trump called him in August.

Barr and Dutton did not discuss the inquiry at their meeting, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told Reuters.

Trump and his allies charge, without evidence, that the investigation was a politically motivated attempt to hurt his political prospects.

Democrats and some former U.S. officials involved in the effort say the review is an attempt to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings that Trump’s campaign welcomed Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf.

Mueller’s probe led to criminal convictions for several former Trump aides, but he ultimately concluded that there was not enough evidence to bring criminal conspiracy charges.

Mueller’s investigation was triggered in part when a top Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, was allegedly told by Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had damaging information about Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

Details of the conversation, which Papadopoulos denies, were passed to the FBI. Papadopoulos was later prosecuted by Mueller’s office and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Barr traveled to Italy in September to discuss the probe with intelligence officials there, according to a source close to the matter.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Barr was focused on the actions of Joseph Misfud, a Maltese university professor who, according to Mueller’s report, had contacts with Russian intelligence officials and told Papadopoulos about the compromising emails.

Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Giselda Vagnoni in Rome; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis