Explained: How Alexander Downer Instigated The Russia Investigation

To Australians, Alexander Downer is the right-wing former Foreign Minister to the Howard government who later served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

But to certain sections of the United States, he's the left-wing "spy" and 4chan boogeyman who helped a coordinated international effort to wrongly prevent Donald Trump from securing the presidency.

The truth is -- obviously -- more complex.

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Alexander Downer served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom until 2018. Photo: AAP.

Alexander Downer's secret meeting with senior Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in May 2016 sparked the initial FBI investigation into Russian interference.

The pair met at a London wine bar when Papadopoulos allegedly told Downer that Russia had dirt on the then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Downer, with permission from the Australian government, then informed FBI agents about potential Russian meddling, which paved the way for the initial FBI probe and later, the Robert Mueller investigation.

This story also involves a man called Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor with links to the Russian government. Mifsud told Papadopoulos the Russians had "dirt" on Clinton in "thousands of emails", according to court documents.

George Papadopoulos leaving federal court after he was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI. Photo: AAP.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017, initially telling the agency Mifsud was "a nothing" but later conceding he knew the professor had "substantial connections to Russian government officials".

In reporting the Trump-Morrison phone call this morning, the New York Times noted that Mifsud, last seen working as a visiting academic in Rome, has "disappeared".

Following the bombshell report, Papadopoulos tweeted that he'd been "right about Downer from the beginning", calling him a "wannabe spy and Clinton errand boy who is about to get exposed on the world stage".

"First, I testified against both Downer and Mifsud a year ago to help launch Durham's investigation," Papadopoulos said, referring to the probe into the FBI's investigation, led by US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham.

"Now, the fruit of that accurate testimony is exposing the global nature of the attempt to set up the 2016 campaign and interfere in the democratic process. Was my patriotic duty!"

He added that it was "payback time".

Speaking to ABC Radio this morning, Downer -- who was booked for the interview prior to the Times report -- said he didn't "have a clue" about the Morrison-Trump phone call.

He also refused to comment on his meeting with Papadopoulos.

"I've just got nothing more to say about it," he told Radio National.

"I mean, I had a conversation with this guy, I passed on the conversation or that one element of the conversation to the Americans and there's just nothing more to it. I can't offer you any more information."

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However, it appears Australia is a ready and willing partner in the US Justice Department's investigation.

The Prime Minister's office confirmed this morning it was "ready to assist and cooperate" on the matter.

Ambassador Joe Hockey intoned a similar stance in a letter to US Attorney-General William Barr earlier this year.

In that letter, Hockey noted that while Downer was no longer a government official -- he retired as High Commissioner last year, and is currently an executive chair at King's College London -- Australia would "stand ready to provide you with all relevant information".

Democrats have accused Barr of "going rogue" as recently as last week, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accusing him of being part of a "coverup of a coverup" in relation to the controversial Ukraine phone call.

It was this phone call -- alerted to by a whistleblower -- that prompted Pelosi to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.

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