Trump asked the Australian prime minister to help investigate Mueller probe origins

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By Pete Williams and Dartunorro Clark  with NBC News Politics
Image: President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr arrive at a
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr arrive at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Sept. 9, 2019.   -  Copyright  Andrew Harnik AP file

President Donald Trump sought help from the Australian prime minister to investigate the origins of former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, a Justice Department official told NBC News on Monday.

The call to Scott Morrison, the Australian leader, came recently after Attorney General William Barr in May asked John Durham, the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, to lead an inquiryinto whether the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign was properly predicated. The DOJ official said Barr asked Trump to make the call to seek Australia's help.

An administration official described the call as a routine call between two heads of state ahead of state seeking the assistance of another country's law enforcement agency. It was "asking his law enforcement to work with ours," the official said.

The report comes amid an ongoing impeachment inquiry stemming from allegations that Trump pushed the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The New York Times first reported this story. The official, however, said the department had an issue with the Times describing Trump's call as pushing the Australian prime minister.

"The wasn't a push," the DOJ official says. "This was an ask."

Former FBI director Robert Mueller took over the investigation into Russian meddling and potential links with the Trump campaign in May 2017 following the abrupt firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Mueller submitted his report this past March andtestified in front of Congress in July. His report noted that a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, had gone to a London bar to have drinks with an Australian diplomat in May 2016.

While there, Papadopoulos reportedly told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, that he'd heard that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Trump's presidential rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Australian government then reported Papadopoulos' remarks to the FBI. That sparked a nearly two-year investigation spanned the globe and roiled the Trump administration.