October 2, 2019 / 12:05 AM / 2 months ago

Australia Foreign Minister says helping White House probe in national interest

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s offer to help U.S. President Donald Trump investigate a report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was in the national interest, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks with a delegate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo during an event hosted by the U.S. Department of State's Energy Resources Governance Initiative at the Palace Hotel on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz

The New York Times on Monday reported Trump had asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for help investigating the origins of what became Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to aid Trump in the 2016 national elections.

A spokesperson for Morrison on Tuesday said the prime minister had agreed to help, drawing criticism from Australia’s opposition Labor party.

But Payne said cooperating with Australia’s closest ally was prudent.

“We are working in Australia’s interests and we are working with our closest and most important ally,” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We should assist them as we can, we should ensure that assistance is appropriate and that’s what we’re doing.”

Trump is under mounting pressure amid an impeachment investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives into reports that he sought to influence foreign governments to go after his political adversaries.

The Democratic-led House began the inquiry last week after a whistleblower raised concerns that Trump tried to leverage nearly $400 million in proposed aid for Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in the 2020 election.

The Mueller report was triggered in part by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer.

Downer was allegedly told in 2016 by George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide, that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Downer reported the details of the conversation, which Papadopoulos denies, to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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