Now, Australian opposition lawmakers are making a similar demand of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after reports that Trump asked him in a September phone call to cooperate with Attorney General William P. Barr’s inquiry into the origins of Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
“The Prime Minister needs to explain what exactly went on here. He needs to release any transcript or information which is out there,” Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese as saying. “This is quite extraordinary. These revelations are of concern.”
“It was a fairly uneventful conversation,” he told Sky News. He also said that “Australia would never do anything that would prejudice our national interest.”
When pressed on whether he found it unusual that Trump called him directly just to get a point of contact within the Australian government to speak with Barr, Morrison brushed aside the idea that the request was at all unorthodox.
“Well, look, I’ve had a lot of conversations with the president and it was a very brief conversation and it was not one that I’d characterize as being ladled with pressure. It was a fairly polite request for something that the Australian government had made pretty clear we were happy to do,” he said, referring to the Australian ambassador to Washington’s earlier offer to assist in the inquiry.
When asked if Trump used the word “favor,” as the White House transcript shows he did in his July call with Zelensky, Morrison replied: “No, not that I recall at all.”
Morrison also insisted that it would have been more unusual for him to rebuff Trump’s request.
“I think it would have been quite extraordinary for us to deny such cooperation — on what possible basis could we do that?” Morrison said. “We’ve got certainly nothing to hide. We are not the subject of this investigation, nor are we a party to it.”
When asked if Morrison’s office had a transcript of the call or planned to release it, a spokesperson declined to comment and referred The Post back to the Sky News interview.
Alan Tidwell, director of the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies at Georgetown University, said “getting tied up in an American domestic political conflict is really bad for Morrison.”
If he doesn’t release a transcript, “it affords an opportunity for people to constantly point to it and say, ‘What did you actually say?’ ”
If he does, “Labor will still try to wedge [him] on it,” he said.
In recent months, Trump has courted a friendship with Morrison, praising him effusively during a June summit of the Group of 20 in Osaka, and then inviting him for a state dinner in the Rose Garden last month. It was only the second time Trump has hosted such a dinner since his inauguration in 2017. For the first dinner, in April 2018, Trump played host to French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte.
To extend such an invitation indicates that both Trump and his top aides value close ties with Morrison, said Erik Goldstein, a professor at Boston University who researches diplomacy and has studied state dinners.
Goldstein said there are a number of ways to interpret Trump’s overtures to the Australian leader.
“One is Morrison has done something to help Trump and this is the reward, in a way, or that Trump is clearly trying to buy goodwill upfront for something that he’s going to want,” he said.
Either way, the White House is “obviously trying to strengthen that [relationship] by helping Morrison increase his profile in Australia by being given this very high level of reception,” he said.