Lindsey Graham floated a Russia conspiracy theory in a letter — and got promptly slapped down by an Australian official
For some unknown reason, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) inserted himself in Attorney General Bill Barr's conspiratorial global mission to discredit the Russia investigation on Wednesday and ended up getting directly contradicted by a foreign official.
After reports revealed Barr's world travels on behalf of the investigation of the investigators — as President Donald Trump has called it — Graham stood up for the attorney general, arguing that the head of the Justice Department's deep involvement in a single, backward-looking and highly politically sensitive case is nothing to be concerned about. In particular, he sent a letter Wednesday to the prime ministers of Australia, Italy, and the UK, asking that the countries cooperate with the investigation.
Why Australia? The country features centrally in the origins of the Russia probe, the subject of much right-wing scrutiny and histrionics. It was former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Alexander Downer who reportedly first alerted the FBI to the Russian efforts to influence the 2016 campaign after he met with Trump staffer George Papadopolous in London. Papadopolous reportedly told Downer about discussions he had with a man who claimed Russia had email dirt on Hillary Clinton.
It's a complicated backstory, but the right wing has developed a theory around this meeting that foreign governments were somehow doing American intelligence agency's work to gin up a predicate for a counterintelligence investigation of Trump's campaign — information that they would then hand back over to U.S. intelligence. When Graham wrote his letter, he seemingly referred to this theory (it's not clear if Graham was being intentionally provocative or if he has just confused conservative conspiracies with reality at this point):
It appears that the United States law enforcement and intelligence communities relied on foreign intelligence as part of their efforts to investigate and monitor the 2016 presidential election. These efforts included: (1) relying on a deeply-flawed dossier filled with hearsay and written by a biased, former United Kingdom intelligence officer; (2) receiving intelligence from an Italian ‘professor” who was directed to contact a low-level Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos to gather intelligence on the campaign; and (3) accepting information from an Australian diplomat who was also directed to contact Papadopoulos and relay information obtained from Papadopoulos regarding the campaign to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That the Attorney General is holding meetings with your countries to aid in the Justice Department’s investigation of what happened is well within the bounds of his normal activities, lie is simply doing his job. [emphasis added]
Note that the senator's claim, which I've bolded, is that Downer had been specifically directed to contact Papadopolous to turn over information about the Trump campaign to the FBI.
Australia's reply was sharp and biting.
Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey wrote to Graham, saying that his government has already been clear that it is cooperating with the DOJ investigation. In fact, the government has sent a letter to Barr in May affirming its cooperation. He added: "I note that we have been public about our willingness to cooperate."
He also called out Graham's conspiratorial claims.
"In your letter you made mention of the role of an Australian diplomat," he wrote. "We reject your characterisation of his role."