Turnbull does a Donald, risking rift with Trump

CANBERRA • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull risks a fresh rift with US President Donald Trump after leaked footage showed him parodying the President and alluding to a US probe into election campaign links with Russia.

In a closed-door speech on Wednesday night to journalists and lawmakers, Mr Turnbull imitated Mr Trump speaking about online opinion polls.

"The Donald and I... we are winning in the polls. We are! Not the fake polls. We are winning in the real polls. You know, the online polls. They are so easy to win," he said to laughs from the audience at the Mid-Winter Ball in Canberra, adding: "I have this Russian guy..."

While journalists were told the speech was not for reporting, a local television network aired audio portions of Mr Turnbull's comments to the backdrop of audience laughter.

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Mr Trump has faced scrutiny over allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia to influence last November's presidential election.

Mr Turnbull played down his Trump impression yesterday, calling it "affectionately light- hearted". Still, the two men had a rocky start after Mr Trump reportedly berated Mr Turnbull in a phone call early in his White House tenure. They smoothed things over at a meeting in the United States in May.

"It was good-natured and the brunt of my jokes was myself," Mr Turnbull said in a radio interview yesterday, rejecting the notion that his speech was at Mr Trump's expense. He said he was disappointed the comments were leaked.

In a statement cited by Channel 9, the US Embassy in Canberra said it saw the lighter side of the address. "We understand that last night's event is equivalent to our own White House Correspondents' Dinner," it said. "We take this with the good humour that was intended."

Last month, Mr Turnbull met the US President in New York to mend fences over the ill-tempered call.

He appeared to make light of that icy conversation in the leaked recording.

"It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful putting-me-at-ease ever," he said.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Turnbull does a Donald, risking rift with Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe