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US-Russia probe sparked by encounter between two players with Cyprus connection

Alexander Downer at the presidential palace in Nicosia

The ongoing FBI Russia probe in the US that has dogged the Trump presidency was kicked off by two personalities with Cyprus connections, it emerged on Sunday.

It was already known that George Papadopoulos who had been an adviser to Donald Trump on foreign policy had visited Cyprus three times as a guest of the public information office (PIO).

Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty of lying as part of a federal probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, had lobbied for energy cooperation between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus, after significant natural gas resources were discovered in Israel.

According to the New York Times on Sunday, Papadopoulos had told Australian former foreign minister and diplomat Alexander Downer in May 2016 that Russia had political dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Downer was the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser for Cyprus from 2008 to 2014.

The conversation between Papadopoulos and Downer, in London was a driving factor behind the FBI’s decision to open a counter-intelligence investigation of Moscow’s contacts with the Trump campaign, the Times reported.

Two months after the meeting, Australian officials passed the information that came from Papadopoulos to their American counterparts when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, according to the newspaper, which cited four current and former US and foreign officials.

Besides the information from the Australians, the probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also propelled by intelligence from other friendly governments, including the British and Dutch, the Times said.

Papadopoulos, a Chicago-based international energy lawyer, pleaded guilty on October 30 to lying to FBI agents about contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials.

The White House has played down the former aide’s campaign role, saying it was “extremely limited” and that any actions he took would have been on his own. The New York Times, however, reported that Papadopoulos helped set up a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and edited the outline of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech in April 2016.
Lawyers for Papadopoulos did not immediately respond to requests by Reuters for comment.

Trump’s White House attorney, Ty Cobb, declined to comment on the New York Times report. “Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, we are not commenting on matters such as this,” he said in a statement.

Russia has denied interfering in the US election and Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

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