IN DEFENCE OF ALEXANDER DOWNER“Australian diplomat whose tip prompted FBI’s Russia-probe has tie to Clintons”, or so the normally sober “The Hill” makes an attempt at some mild conspiracy mongering:

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…

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.

I blogged about this rather weird incident when “The New York Times” first broke the story. It remains weird and rather under-explained. But “The Hill” story is a bit of a stretch.

How much of a “tie” is the fact that Downer, as Australia’s then Foreign Minister, presided over Australia’s donation (albeit a significant one) to the Clinton Foundation? Many governments and individuals donated to the Foundation over the years, because for a long time, and certainly in its earlier days, it appeared like a perfectly reputable international aid initiative, akin to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, albeit one relying on fundraising rather than private fortune. Part of Australia’s foreign aid budget has always gone to a range of international organisations, multilateral bodies, and non-government groups to help them deliver their development programs.

In the absence of any additional information, I wouldn’t consider a one-time government donation (for Downer, for the relationship between the Australian government and the Clinton Foundation continued after the election of the Labor government in 2007) to be the evidence that somehow our former Foreign Minister is part of the Clinton octopus.

What the article doesn’t mention is of course that Downer was a Liberal Foreign Minister, and on the right of the centre-right party too. This doesn’t necessarily preclude an affinity for the Clintons – Bill, after all, could be famously charming in a bi-partisan way in his prime – and I never had an opportunity to ask Downer about his attitude to the Clintons, but I would be surprised if there was any special relationship there – particularly one that would have a decade later given rise to this strange injection into the American presidential politics.

But I’m happy to be corrected.