The New York Times reports that the FBI's Russia probe was helped by an Australian diplomat's tip-off

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had political dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The conversation between Papadopoulos and the diplomat, Alexander 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 U.S. and foreign officials.

RELATED: Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective

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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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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 Oct. 30 to lying to FBI agents about contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials. It was the first criminal charge alleging links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The White House has played down Papadopoulos' 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 Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and edited the outline of Trump's first major foreign policy speech in April 2016.

The federal investigation, which is now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, has hung over Trump's White House since he took office almost a year ago. Some Trump allies have recently accused Mueller's team of being biased against the Republican president.

Lawyers for Papadopoulos and Mueller's office 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.

Mueller has charged four Trump associates, including Papadopoulos, in his investigation. Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election and Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Roberta Rampton in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Matthew Lewis)

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