Trump troubles extend to allies


Imagine if you read this news story: Malcolm Turnbull has sacked the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police for continuing investigations into past links between Mr Turnbull’s office and a foreign government.

The extraordinary move coincides with explosive new revelations of impromptu intelligence sharing with that same government, by the Prime Minister himself.


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The unprecedented use of executive power to terminate the services of an independent statutory officer has sent shockwaves through the political, defence, and security establishments. Powerful security agencies are now in open conflict with the Turnbull government amid concerns about the administration of justice and the integrity of Australia’s secret intelligence arrangements.

This fictional rendering conveys the gravity of events now swirling around Donald J Trump’s idiosyncratic administration: what would happen if an Australian PM leant on the AFP to forget past links with a foreign government; extemporised on sensitive intelligence (gained from a trusted partner country) with a hostile government; and dumped the equivalent of the FBI boss without due cause?

Unthinkable in a sober, mature, democracy?

Understandably, Australians are bemused by Trump’s travails, and perhaps even entertained by his brazenly adolescent Twitter presence.

More material though are the implications for Australia arising from an alliance and a formal intelligence-sharing relationship in which the senior partner has become mercurial, indiscreet, and an unnecessary danger to vulnerable information networks.

Turnbull says the relationship with Washington remains extremely close and that Australia has no concerns regarding current events. Of course he must maintain this position publicly. Privately, it would be a different story. 

The crisis engulfing the White House is even wider than the political morbidity of a vainglorious Trump. 

As US lawmakers contemplate subpoenas to ascertain what the President said to dumped FBI boss James Comey – a preparatory process that could well lead to impeachment proceedings – alarm bells should be ringing. Whatever the facts, the appearance of powerful forces within law enforcement and security agencies coalescing against an elected government, is unfortunate. Prima facie, undemocratic. Yet these are grave matters and cannot be wished away.

Other questions go to Comey’s own probity. His decision to publicly re-open investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails in the final days of last year’s presidential campaign was disastrous. It killed off Clinton’s campaign and in the end only eroded Trump’s legitimacy further.

Assuming the president did lean on the FBI to cease investigating Michael Flynn once the former National Security Adviser had fallen on his sword, then why did Comey not resign and/or alert the Congressional oversight committee in February? Perhaps to ensure the investigation was not abandoned as the president obviously wished? Or was it to retain his post?

All of this will be ventilated over coming months, adding to the atmosphere of looseness and second-rate amateurism extending from the Oval Office, to the unstable world beyond.

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