Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham met with Italian intelligence and listened to a secret recording of Joseph Mifsud, the mysterious professor at the center of the Trump-Russia saga.
The quiet trip to Rome by Barr and Durham last week as impeachment furor swept Washington, D.C., was part of the “investigation of the investigators.” The Justice Department is looking into the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference in 2016 and any possible ties to the Trump campaign, which later became part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Barr and Durham listened to a taped deposition of Mifsud at the U.S. Embassy in Rome as well as met with Italian security officials who provided them with other information that the Italian government had on Mifsud, according to the Daily Beast. Mifsud explained why he was leaving his job at Rome’s Link University and asked for police protection, claiming that his life might be endangered.
The Trump administration’s interest in Mifsud likely stems from a 2016 conversation in which Mifsud allegedly told Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about possible Russian dirt on then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos allegedly mentioned this to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, who passed it to the Australian government, who passed it to the United States, leading to the official launch of the Trump-Russia investigation in July 2016.
The Australian government is also cooperating with Barr in his efforts, and the DOJ said last week that Barr and Durham were reaching out to foreign governments for help.
“Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. “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.”
Stephan Roh, a lawyer who says he represents Mifsud and shared a picture of Mifsud allegedly signing a power of attorney in 2018, told the Washington Examiner that Mifsud “is in Italy, at least until recently.” But Roh said Mifsud, whose whereabouts are unknown, hadn’t contacted him in a while.
Mifsud denied he told Papadopoulos the Russians had Clinton’s emails, and Roh claims his client cooperated with Western intelligence, not Russian intelligence, aligning with what some GOP investigators have said. Roh previously said Durham was seeking an interview with Mifsud, but it was not clear if Durham and Barr were doing so.
Papadopoulos has claimed Mifsud has “connections to Italian intelligence.”
The Mueller report confirmed the role information from Mifsud played in prompting the FBI “to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.” The investigation “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between the Kremlin and anyone associated with Trump.
Mueller’s report said Mifsud “had connections to Russia” and “maintained various Russian contacts.” Mueller also said Mifsud misled investigators when they questioned him, but he was not charged. As part of Mueller’s Russia investigation, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Mifsud and served 12 days in prison late last year.
Republicans have alleged that foreign intelligence agencies, like those in Western Europe, may have played a role in monitoring Trump associates in 2016.
Durham’s investigation is separate from the one just finished by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The DOJ watchdog investigated allegations of abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the DOJ and the FBI, and Horowitz has spoken with Durham, who is handling any criminal referrals from Horowitz’s investigation.
Author: Jerry Dunleavy