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DOJ says Trump contacted foreign countries to assist Barr's Russia inquiry

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Monday that President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE contacted foreign countries at Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE’s request to ask them for assistance in an ongoing investigation into the origins of the Russian interference probe.

“As the Department of Justice has previously announced, a team led by U.S. Attorney John DurhamJohn DurhamGarland stresses independence in first speech at DOJ Senate votes to confirm Garland as attorney general Special counsel investigating Russia probe to retire as US attorney MORE is investigating the origins of the U.S. counterintelligence probe of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

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“At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials,” Kupec added.

The Justice Department statement quickly followed reports that Trump had asked Australia’s prime minister during a recent phone call to assist Barr in gathering information for the Russia inquiry and that Barr had held meetings overseas in Italy seeking the country's help. Barr has also reportedly requested assistance from British intelligence officials in connection with the inquiry.  

Democrats have accused Trump and Barr of pursuing a politically motivated investigation. Trump railed against former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s probe as a “witch hunt” and has at times claimed the investigation into his campaign’s links to Russia was “illegal.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Monday that Barr asked Trump to “provide introductions to facilitate” the ongoing investigation, accusing Democrats of not wanting “the truth to come out.”

"This call relates to a DOJ inquiry publicly announced months ago to uncover exactly what happened," Gidley said in a statement Monday. "The DOJ simply requested that the President provide introductions to facilitate that ongoing inquiry, and he did so, that's all." 

Barr said earlier this year that he planned to investigate the intelligence collection on the Trump campaign to determine whether it was “adequately predicated.” Trump has given Barr sweeping powers in the investigation, including allowing the attorney general to declassify and release documents related to the probe.

The review spearheaded by Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, is separate from the Justice Department inspector general’s investigation into the FBI’s surveillance of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, on which a report is currently being prepared.

Mueller concluded his investigation in March; the former special counsel did not find sufficient evidence to accuse members or associates of Trump’s campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

The investigation ensnared six Trump associates on financial, false statements and other charges.

The revelations about Trump's phone conversation with Australia come amid ongoing controversy over a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during which Trump encouraged Zelensky to investigate 2016 election interference and unsubstantiated allegations about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. 

A rough transcript of the call released by the White House showed that Trump offered to put Zelensky in touch with Barr and Trump's personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani endorses Republican Curtis Sliwa for NYC mayor The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats' agenda in limbo as Senate returns CNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations MORE.

The DOJ said last week that Barr did not learn of the call until several weeks after it took place and that the attorney general had not communicated with the Ukrainian government. The Justice Department also acknowledged that "certain Ukrainians" not part of the country's government had volunteered information to Durham and that he was reviewing it. 

The Zelensky call, which triggered an intelligence community whistleblower complaint, is at the heart of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Trump announced last week by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar MORE (D-Calif.). 

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong on the call, and his aides have dismissed allegations raised by the whistleblower that Trump was using his office to pressure a foreign government to help his reelection. 

Updated at 8:02 p.m. Justine Coleman contributed.