Sen. Lindsey Graham urges prime ministers to cooperate in attorney general Barr's review of Mueller inquiry

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's chief Republican ally in the Senate urged the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia late Wednesday to cooperate with Attorney General William Barr's inquiry into the origins of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

The unusual request issued by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., comes after the White House and Justice Department acknowledged earlier this week that Trump — at Barr's request — had contacted other countries to help the attorney general and Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham connect with officials abroad.

Durham was tapped earlier this year by Barr to lead the investigation into the origins of the special counsel's now-completed investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Among the avenues of inquiry has been whether U.S. officials abused their surveillance authority, a claim long advanced by the president.

Graham did not consult with Barr before writing the prime ministers, a Justice official said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump looks on as Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a January ceremony honoring the college football champion Clemson Tigers at the White House.

Trump efforts to advance the attorney general's inquiry have included the president's recent outreach to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

An Australian government spokesman acknowledged Trump's recent entreaties, saying that the government "has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation."

"The (prime minister) confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the president," the Australian statement said.

News of Trump's outreach to Australia, first reported by the The New York Times, came as Congress continued to examine a July 25 telephone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

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During that call, which has prompted a House impeachment inquiry, the president invoked Barr's name, repeatedly indicating that Barr would be calling to assist in reviving a then-dormant inquiry into a Ukrainian energy company, where Biden's son, Hunter Biden, served as a board member.

Neither the former vice president nor his son have been accused of wrongdoing by the Ukrainian government.

Justice officials have said that Barr had no prior knowledge that Trump had suggested the Ukrainian president work with the attorney general.

Australia, however, played a pivotal role in the FBI's decision to launch the initial investigation into Russia interference in 2016. At the time, Australia's top diplomat in the United Kingdom passed information to U.S. authorities after a meeting with George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. The diplomat said Papadopoulos confided that Russians were offering up damaging information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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Papadopoulos later served two weeks in prison for lying to FBI agents about his interactions with a Russian national while working for the Trump campaign. Trump has dismissed Papadopoulos as a low-level campaign aide. 

He was the first former Trump aide to be sentenced in Mueller's investigation of Moscow's interference operation.  

Papadopoulos admitted that he lied to the FBI about interactions in which people he thought were linked to the Russian government described Moscow having “thousands of emails” containing damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Earlier this year, Trump appeared to offer a preview of the attorney general's expected efforts to pursue contacts with other governments in the Mueller examination.

"He can look, and I hope he looks at the UK, and I hope he looks at Australia, and I hope he looks at Ukraine," Trump said in a May 24 exchange with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

"I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country. It's the greatest hoax in the history of our country, and somebody has to get to the bottom of it."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lindsey Graham urges Australia, Italy, UK prime ministers to cooperate with Attorney General