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‘Don’t cheapen the alliance’: US congressman’s warning to Morrison on Trump help

“This story casts a real shadow over what has been a very special relationship.

Scott and Jenny Morrison with Donald and Melania Trump in the White House corridors of power.

Scott and Jenny Morrison with Donald and Melania Trump in the White House corridors of power. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“It has the potential to cheapen people’s perceptions of it and that is very unfortunate.”

Courtney is the co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Australia Caucus, a bipartisan group of American politicians who work to advance the US-Australia alliance in Washington.

He said it was appropriate for Australia and the US to share intelligence information with each other, but the aim should be protecting national security rather than seeking partisan political gain.

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“The relationship between the US and other countries should not depend on them helping the President to nurse a personal grudge from the 2016 election campaign,” he said.

“I feel terrible that Australia is being sucked into this vortex.

“It cheapens the importance of the relationship at a critical time when our foreign policy should be focused on trade and national defence issues.”

Courtney rejected any suggestion that Trump’s phone call represented a routine request from a US president to a foreign leader.

“This is totally out of the norm,” said Courtney, who is regarded as one of the most bipartisan legislators in the US Congress.

“We are in uncharted waters here.

“This is another log on the fire in terms of the President using his position to pursue his own personal interests and I’m sure it will come under scrutiny from the foreign affairs and intelligence committees.”

He said the publication of a New York Times story about the Trump-Morrison phone call on Monday afternoon, local time, sparked an instant reaction among fellow members of Congress.

“My phone immediately lit up with texts my buddies from Congress saying: ‘Australia???'” he said.

Courtney said that Alexander Downer, Australia’s former high commissioner to the UK, had done nothing wrong in passing on information from junior Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos.

“The Australian government shouldn’t have to waste a second on this,” he said.

“This is not some confected story – the section of the Mueller report relating to the Australian diplomat is beyond question.”

Courtney announced he supported an impeachment inquiry into President Trump after the details of his controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became public.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump during a ceremonial welcome for Australia's leader in the US last month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump during a ceremonial welcome for Australia’s leader in the US last month.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

That call showed Trump asking Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott weighed into the controversy, saying he would have done the same as Morrison under the same situation.

“As Scott Morrison says we normally cooperate with friendly governments, that’s just the way we are,” Abbott told journalists at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

“I’m very happy with everything that Scott Morrison said and I would say exactly the same thing in similar circumstances.

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He also backed Downer’s job in passing on the US the details of his meeting with George Papadopoulos.

“Alexander did exactly what a senior Australian diplomat would be expected to do.”

Asked what the cooperation might yield, Mr Abbott said: “That’s up to the investigation.’

with Latika Bourke

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