Attorney General William Barr appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to make his Justice Department budget request, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr may have intended for his trip to Rome last week to go unnoticed, but it was pretty hard to keep it under wraps after he and U.S. Attorney John Durham showed up at the U.S. Embassy requesting a secure conference room.
Several key events from the “Russian collusion” story took place in Rome. The Link University campus in the city provided the backdrop for many of those events. The faculty of Link University is closely connected to the British intelligence community. Moreover, the FBI held a training program at Link in the fall of 2016, an interesting fact which the Mueller report conveniently omitted.
And it just so happened that in March 2016, a Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud “met” then-Trump campaign junior advisor George Papadopoulos on the Link campus in Rome. Over the course of several meetings, Mifsud allegedly told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
So what exactly brought Barr and Durham to Rome?
Sources have told The Daily Beast they wanted information from the Italian secret service about Mifsud. The Daily Beast reported:
The Italian Justice Ministry’s public records show that Mifsud had applied for police protection in Italy after disappearing from Link University, where he worked and, in doing so, had given a taped deposition to explain just why people might want to harm him.
A source in the Italian Ministry of Justice, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast that Barr and Durham were played the tape. A second source within the Italian government also confirmed to The Daily Beast that Barr and Durham were shown other evidence the Italians had on Mifsud.
Several mainstream Italian newspapers on Tuesday reported that Mifsud is cooperating with Barr and Durham’s investigation and some even suggested he met them in person in Rome last week. The Daily Beast reached Stephan Roh, Mifsud’s Swiss lawyer, by phone Tuesday. Roh said he hadn’t seen his client “for quite some time” but that he “doubted” he would show his face in Rome.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Rome on Tuesday and, according to their source, he was scheduled to meet with the same intelligence agency officials with whom Barr and Durham had just met.
The public has heard very little about the Barr/Durham investigation into the origins of the Russian collusion investigation. However, at the end of July, investigative journalist John Solomon reported that Durham’s team had been in touch with Mifsud’s attorney, Stephan Roh, mentioned above. According to Solomon, Durham and his team were hoping to either “interview Mifsud or at the very least review a recorded deposition the professor gave in summer 2018 about his role in the drama involving Donald Trump, Russia and the 2016 election.”
Solomon wrote that multiple sources and contemporaneous emails had confirmed this information.
The Mueller Report portrays Mifsud as having extensive ties with the Russians.
The report claims Mifsud planted the story about the Clinton emails in Moscow and then lied about his dealings with Papadopoulos when interviewed by the FBI in 2017. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Mifsud.
But unlike others accused of misleading Mueller — including Papadopoulos, former Trump adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — Mifsud was not charged with a crime.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who led the House Intelligence Committee’s Trump/Russia investigation in 2017 and 2018, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee have said the Mueller Report’s assessment of Mifsud doesn’t add up. The two have long suspected that rather than being connected to Russian intelligence, Mifsud was a western intelligence asset.
On Monday, Papadopoulos tweeted that Mifsud has ties to Italian intelligence.
That’s what happens when I exposed Mifsud’s connections to Italian intelligence 🇺🇸🇮🇹 and Downer’s bizarre recording of my conversation about everything BUT Russia! https://t.co/00aDtCBFbg
— George Papadopoulos (@GeorgePapa19) September 30, 2019
Here is what Roh told Solomon in July.
The information he is preparing to share with Durham’s team from his client will accentuate those concerns.
Mifsud was a “longtime cooperator of western intel” who was asked specifically by his contacts at Link University in Rome and the London Center of International Law Practice (LCILP) — two academic groups with ties to Western diplomacy and intelligence — to meet with Papadopoulos at a dinner in Rome in mid-March 2016, Roh told me.
(A May 2019 letter from Nunes to U.S. intelligence officials corroborates some of Roh’s account, revealing photos showing that the FBI conducted training at Link in fall 2016 and that Mifsud and other Link officials met regularly with world leaders, including Boris Johnson, elected today as Britain’s new prime minister.)
A few days after the March dinner, Roh added, Mifsud received instructions from Link superiors to “put Papadopoulos in contact with Russians,” including a think tank figure named Ivan Timofeev and a woman he was instructed to identify to Papadopoulos as Vladimir Putin’s niece.
Mifsud knew the woman was not the Russian president’s niece but, rather, a student who was involved with both the Link and LCILP campuses, and the professor believed there was an effort underway to determine whether Papadopoulos was an “agent provocateur” seeking foreign contacts, Roh said.
The evidence, he told me, “clearly indicates that this was not only a surveillance op but a more sophisticated intel operation” in which Mifsud became involved.
Roh has defended Mifsud in the media against various allegations, steadfastly denying Mueller’s claim that his client ever told Papadopoulos about Clinton emails in Russia. Roh wrote a book last year that first floated the idea of Mifsud as a Western intelligence op.
If the FBI’s and Mueller’s portrayals are correct, Mifsud’s current story could be simply a Russian disinformation campaign or an exaggeration by a lawyer who seeks media attention and book promotion. Thus, everything Mifsud says must be given careful scrutiny.
However, much of what we’ve already learned from FBI officials who have testified before Congress, the efforts of Republican lawmakers, and investigative reporters, corroborates Roh’s allegations.
Since July, we’ve heard nearly nothing about Durham’s investigation. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It means they’re not providing the strategic leaks that seemed to come from the Mueller team at just the right moments.
Note: Solomon goes into more detail about his interview with Roh which I’ve included below if anyone is interested.
The Mueller Report portrays Papadopoulos as the instigator who initiated contact with Mifsud and his Russian contacts.
In fact, the contemporaneous evidence shows Mifsud was directed to seek out Papadopoulos at the March 14, 2016, dinner arranged by the LCILP and Link. Papadopoulos didn’t know who Mifsud was when he arrived for the dinner.
A month later, in mid-April 2016, Mifsud initiated introductions to Russian figures, including an email chain with Timofeev.
“Dear George, Ivan: As promised I had a long conversation today in Moscow with my dear friend Ivan from RIAC,” Mifsud wrote in an April 16, 2016, email to Papadopoulos that I authenticated with U.S. officials. “Ivan is ready to meet with you in London (or USA or Moscow).”
Roh said the idea for introducing the Trump adviser to Russians did not come from Papadopoulos or Russia but from Mifsud’s contacts at Link and LCILP. Likewise, Papadopoulos told me he didn’t initially ask to be introduced to Russians, though he eventually engaged in Mifsud’s offer.
To back his story, Roh provided me a page from Mifsud’s 2018 deposition — the one he plans to provide Durham’s team — in which the professor suggested the woman he introduced in April 2016 to Papadopoulos as Putin’s niece was a setup taken from his campus.
“Are you joking?” the deposition quotes Mifsud when Roh asked about Putin’s niece. “The question is not Putin’s niece, in any way or form. She is a student who had just finished the, an MBA program and was like many others, given the possibility of being a stagiaire,” a European term for “trainee” or “apprentice.”
One other Mifsud portrayal in the Mueller report and in court filings has raised eyebrows in intelligence and congressional circles. Mueller portrayed the FBI as being victimized during the Russia probe because Papadopoulos originally lied about Mifsud tipping him to the Clinton emails — and that somehow impeded the Mueller team from adequately questioning the professor in February 2017.
But new documents I obtained show Mifsud was anything but elusive and easily could have been interviewed, before and after Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying.
Mifsud was in Europe in summer 2018 for his deposition, routinely corresponded and met with European political and diplomatic officials for much of 2017, and even was interviewed by media outlets during the Mueller probe, according to email correspondence I reviewed. He also exchanged emails directly with FBI agents.
Multiple American officials confirm — as do contemporaneous emails — that Mifsud was in Washington in December 2016 at the height of the FBI’s Russia probe for a meeting with a State Department-backed group, Global Ties USA.
Mifsud’s contacts that month with senior executives of the group never were revealed to congressional intelligence investigators or mentioned in the Mueller report. Nor was Mifsud’s email thanking Global Ties for meeting with him about a “collaboration.”
An American directly familiar with Mifsud’s contacts with Global Ties said they began in May 2016 and involved arranging diplomatic introductions and meetings around the globe. No one from U.S. intelligence ever warned the group or suggested that Mifsud had improper ties to Russia. The FBI never interviewed the executive who met Mifsud in December 2016, the source said.