By John Solomon and Alison Spann The Hill March 6, 2018
The Australian diplomat whose tip in 2016 prompted the Russia-Trump investigation previously arranged one of the largest foreign donations to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable efforts, documents show.
Former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s role in securing $25 million in aid from his country to help the Clinton Foundation fight AIDS is chronicled in decade-old government memos archived on the Australian foreign ministry’s website.
Downer and former President Clinton jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February 2006 that spread out the grant money over four years for a project to provide screening and drug treatment to AIDS patients in Asia.
The money was initially allocated to the Clinton Foundation but later was routed through an affiliate of the charity known as the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), officials said. Australia was one of four foreign governments to donate more than $25 million to CHAI, records show.
In the years that followed, the project won praise for helping thousands of HIV-infected patients in Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, China and Indonesia, but also garnered criticism from auditors about “management weaknesses” and inadequate budget oversight, the memos show.
Downer, now Australia’s ambassador to London, provided the account of a conversation with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos at a London bar in 2016 that became the official reason the FBI opened the Russia counterintelligence probe.
But lawmakers say the FBI didn’t tell Congress about Downer’s prior connection to the Clinton Foundation. Republicans say they are concerned the new information means nearly all of the early evidence the FBI used to justify its election-year probe of Trump came from sources supportive of the Clintons, including the controversial Steele dossier.
“The Clintons’ tentacles go everywhere. So, that’s why it’s important,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) chairman of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that has been taking an increasingly visible role defending the Trump administration in the Russia probe. “We continue to get new information every week it seems that sort of underscores the fact that the FBI hasn’t been square with us.”
Spokesman for the FBI and Russia special counsel Robert Mueller declined comment.
The Australian Foreign Ministry says the Clinton grant was handled like all its other $2 billion annual foreign aid awards, and it ultimately helped thousands in Asia gain access to antiretroviral AIDS medications.
Democrats accuse the GOP of overreaching, saying Downer’s role in trying to help the Clinton Foundation fight AIDS shouldn’t be used to question his assistance to the FBI.
“The effort to attack the FBI and DOJ as a way of defending the President continues,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel. “Not content to disparage our British allies and one of their former intelligence officers, the majority now seeks to defame our Australian partners as a way of undermining the Russia probe. It will not succeed, but may do lasting damage to our institutions and allies in the process.”
Nick Merrill, Hillary Clinton’s spokesman, said any effort to connect the 2006 grant with the current Russia investigation was “laughable.”
Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, said the focus should be on the foundation’s success helping tens of thousands of AIDS patients.
–This report was updated on March 6 at 8:30 a.m.