The Italian Connection: Why Did the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and His Deputy Request Unmaskings of Flynn Calls?

(AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
AP featured image
Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi speaks during a press conference on the election results, in Rome, Monday, March 5, 2018. Italy’s ex-Premier Matteo Renzi says his center-left party will not join any government led by the anti-immigrant League party or the populist 5-Star Movement, the two victorious forces in Italy’s election. Renzi acknowledged that his party suffered a “total defeat” in Sunday’s general election and said he would resign as party leader after a new government has been sworn in. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)


Early last fall, Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham made two trips to Rome.

Several key events from the “Russian collusion” story took place in Rome. The Link University campus in the city provided the backdrop for most of these events. We know that 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 mysterious Maltese professor 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 – twice?

A source in the Italian Ministry of Justice, told The Daily Beast they had traveled there to listen to a taped deposition made by Mifsud which explained why people might want to harm him. A second source within the Italian government confirmed to The Daily Beast that Barr and Durham were shown other evidence the Italians had on Mifsud as well.

At the time of the second Barr/Durham visit, several mainstream Italian newspapers reported that Mifsud was cooperating with Barr and Durham’s investigation and some even suggested he met with them in person.


Three weeks after this visit, the news broke that Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the Trump/Russia collusion story had turned into a criminal investigation.

We also know that President Obama had been extremely friendly with then-Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, which was unusual for him. The Washington Times reported that “the young, dynamic center-left prime minister in October 2016 was being feted as the guest of honor at the lavish final White House state dinner of the Obama presidency…In a Rose Garden Ceremony, President Obama hailed the 43-year-old Italian leader as a “good friend”…”

Obama and his pal Renzi also met in January 2017 during the last days of his Administration.

Unlike members of the Mueller team, the Durham team has maintained a low profile. In December, The New York Times reported that Durham’s office had requested all of former CIA Director John Brennan’s communications records from his time at the agency as well as information about the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.

Fast forward to acting DNI Richard Grenell’s May 8 declassification of the list of Obama Administration officials who had requested unmaskings of Gen. Michael Flynn’s phone calls during the presidential transition period, followed by it’s May 13 release to the public by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson. The list can be viewed here.


Much has been written about the more prominent names on the list such as Joe Biden, James Comey, James Clapper, and John Brennan and the names of six Treasury Department officials including  Secretary Jack Lew. But there are two names on the list which have received scant attention.

On December 6, 2016, there was a request from Kelly Degnan, the Deputy Chief of Mission and one from John R. Phillips, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and the Republic of San Marino.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson mentioned Phillips on his program the night the list was released. He said, “On December 6, for example, the American ambassador to Italy, a guy called John Phillips, asked to unmask Mike Flynn’s name. Phillips is not an intelligence officer. He is an Obama campaign donor who is married to a former Obama aide. Why was Phillips party to spying on an American citizen? That means there were an awful lot of intelligence reports being generated with Mike Flynn’s name in them in the closing weeks of the Obama administration.”

The Washington Examiner mentioned Phillips as well. They reported:

Phillips, the founder and partner at Phillips & Cohen law firm, was a high-dollar fundraiser for former President Barack Obama whose wife, Linda Douglass, served as director of communications for the White House Office of Health Reform from 2009 to 2010. Phillips was U.S. ambassador to Italy and San Marino from the fall of 2013 to the end of Obama’s second term.

It’s not clear why Phillips received “unmasking” material related to Flynn. He declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal. It is not uncommon for ambassadors to receive intelligence reports related to the country in which they are posted, which could prompt them to make unmasking requests to better understand the findings. In fact, thousands of unmasking requests are made by officials every year.


Following the release of this list, Papadopoulos sent out the following tweets.

Why did the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and his Deputy request unmaskings of Flynn calls? Both officials should be questioned under oath. My guess is that John Durham’s team is already on it.


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