WASHINGTON — An Australian diplomat’s tip appears to have helped persuade the FBI to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, in London in May 2016 that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the report said. Downer is Australia’s top diplomat in Britain.

Australia passed the information on to the FBI after the Democratic emails were leaked, according to The Times, which cited four current and former U.S. and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.

“The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation in July 2016,” the newspaper said.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment, saying in a statement that the administration is continuing to cooperate with the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is a cooperating witness. Court documents show he met in April 2016 with Joseph Mifsud, a professor in London who told him about Russia’s cache of emails.

The Times said it was unclear if Papadopoulos told anyone in the Trump campaign.