News and Commentary

Australian Diplomat Who Sparked FBI Probe Into 2016 Trump Campaign Gives Surprise Endorsement
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 12: Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer speaks at National Press Club on November 12, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. Alexander Downer was Australia's longest serving Foreign Minister and is the former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Downer said that the loss of Britain from the EU will be a loss for Australia.
Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

The Australian diplomat whose tip to U.S. officials in 2016 sparked the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign — dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” — gave a surprise endorsement of President Donald Trump this week.

Downer wrote that while he is not a U.S. citizen, his sister is, and she has tended to vote for Republicans over the years. His sister, appalled by Trump’s personality, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but has now flipped back to Trump for 2020. He says that his sister is voting Trump because of how strong the economy was before the pandemic, the extreme bias in the mainstream media, and how weak Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden is.

As for his endorsement, Downer writes:

As a president, Trump has not been bad for Australia. There have been downsides. The withdrawal by the Trump administration from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a regional setback. It was disappointing. Still, if Hillary Clinton had been elected she too would have withdrawn from the TPP.

Beyond that, the two Australian prime ministers who have dealt with Trump have got on rather well with him. Many were surprised that the urbane, centrist and rather intellectual Malcolm Turnbull was able to build such a strong rapport with the showman billionaire.

But Malcolm knows their type. After all, he was Kerry Packer’s lawyer for a number of years and in some respects Packer was a Trump-like figure. I like the story of Trump turning to Turnbull and saying to him: “You’re a good lawyer. You kept Kerry Packer out of jail!”

As with Turnbull, Scott Morrison has also developed a good rapport with Trump, and there is no doubt the President has a soft spot for Australia.

Trump honoured the Obama deal with Turnbull on asylum seekers, he decided not to impose tariffs on Australian steel and aluminium when tariffs were imposed on most of the rest of the world, and his secretaries of defence and state have showed energetic interest in maintaining a power balance in the Indo-Pacific region.

To be frank, it is plain silly partisanship to say the Trump administration has been isolationist and turned its back on its allies. That was a narrative developed during the last presidential election campaign by the Democrats. It’s just nonsense.

In the Indo-Pacific region, as distinct from Europe, there is much less focus on Trump’s tweeting and rather degrading political antics. Asian leaders are more impressed with the broader administration positioning in the region and on the whole they have been happy with that.

Trump built up a good relationship with Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe. He seems to have engaged well enough with other regional leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. And the US Navy, intelligence services and diplomats have remained heavily committed to the region.

Given the size of the US economy, its performance inevitably has an impact on Australia. Until the coronavirus crisis hit, the American economy was motoring along, driven by those tax cuts that Angela liked so much and a strong agenda to deregulate business. This has been good for the Australian economy.

So, overall, the Trump administration has been as good as any for Australia to deal with. Australia has been seen as a great and loyal ally by Washington, as it was in years gone by.

Downer adds that the main reason that Americans never hear about the positives of how Trump has performed from a foreign policy perspective is that the foreign media is very partisan and “they love the Democrats.”

Downer said that he would grit his teeth and vote for Trump, even though he is far from the perfect candidate, because he is better than “poor old Joe Biden” who is “bumbling along without any clear plans.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation noted that Downer’s endorsement comes as a surprise given the fact that he helped spark the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.

The DCNF reported:

In late July 2016, Downer provided the U.S. State Department with information from a meeting he had on May 10, 2016, in London with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos.

Downer wrote in a memo after the meeting that Papadopoulos told him that the Russian government might release information to help the Trump campaign closer to the election. Downer, who was Australia’s top diplomat to the U.K. at the time, provided the memo to officials in the U.S. embassy in London following WikiLeaks’ release on July 22, 2016, of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.

The embassy provided Downer’s memo to the FBI, which opened a full-fledged counterintelligence investigation of Papadopoulos and other Trump campaign aides on July 31, 2016.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a new memoir by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed that Downer “acted without clearance from Australian officials when he contacted United States diplomats four years ago to raise concerns about potential Russian interference in the US presidential election.”

In his endorsement of Trump, Downer addressed the situation, saying, “I’ve had to put up with four years of Trump and some of his fringe cronies claiming I was part of a conspiracy with Hillary Clinton, the FBI, CIA, MI6, Italian intelligence, ASIS, Ukrainian spies and who knows who else, to bring him down.”

“Twitter is full of demands from the hysterical right that I be sent to Guantánamo Bay,” Downer added. “If Trump were to lose, at least I would be spared this abuse. It’s doolally and it does demonstrate how social media, in particular, is replete with wacky theories. Twitter says it edits out statements that are untrue. They don’t seem to have made much of an effort on this issue!”