Who is Joseph Mifsud?
The answer to that question has taken center stage in Bill Barr’s investigation of the origins of the Trump–Russia probe, which brought the attorney general — and a host of others in the Trump administration — to Rome recently, The Washington Times reported.
Mifsud, who was last seen in the Italian capital, reportedly played a central but unclear role in launching the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.
For his part, Barr has been attacked for pursuing the “conspiracy theory” — promoted by ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and others — that Mifsud is a spy with ties to Western intelligence. Papadopoulos’ March 2016 meeting in Rome with Mifsud, who told him about “Russian dirt” in the form of Hillary Clinton’s emails, was the key event that set off the Trump–Russia probe, according to the official narrative.
Italy’s government recently confirmed that Barr went to Rome with U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is leading the criminal probe, to learn more about Mifsud. The mysterious Maltese academic, who is mentioned in Robert Mueller’s report on his Trump–Russia probe dozens of times, went missing after leaving his job at Rome’s Link University in 2017, saying that he feared for his life.
Mifsud has been characterized by Mueller and James Comey as a London-based academic with suspicious ties to the Kremlin. But Rome’s Link University, where Mifsud worked, has ties to Western intelligence, and Papadopoulos and Republican lawmakers have alleged that Mifsud was sent to entrap Trump and justify launching the FBI’s investigation of his campaign.
“That’s why Barr came to Rome twice, why Durham came to Rome: to look for corroborating information regarding Mifsud’s role in the 2016 election,” said Massimo Basile, an Italian researcher and journalist.
Italian intelligence officials who met with Barr showed him taped depositions given by Mifsud before he went into hiding — and Durham has obtained two cellphones belonging to Mifsud, The Epoch Times reported. The Daily Beast, in its report on Barr’s trip to Italy, alleged that Mifsud was cooperating with Durham, although it remains unclear if Mifsud has even resurfaced.
But Mifsud’s role in the origins of Mueller’s probe has nevertheless placed Rome on the map as a key city in Barr’s investigation, drawing in Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conti, who confirmed Barr’s September visit while denying that Italy was involved in “Russiagate.” For his part, President Trump has continued to suggest that Italy might have played a significant but unknown role in the so-called “coup” against him in 2016.
Russian asset or Western spy?
Basile said that Barr and Durham likely gleaned something about the academic during their trip to Italy and that a report on him will come out in the upcoming weeks. But while Mifsud is seen by Barr and Durham as a central figure, others consider the professor a charlatan whose importance has been inflated.
“Nobody knows exactly what Mifsud knows, but he is a desperate man and a man who needs money,” said Carlo Bonini, a journalist who has written about Mifsud and Italian intelligence. “I don’t know how much value what he has to say would eventually have.”
As Barr continues to uncover evidence about Mifsud, he can expect pushback from the liberal, Western institutions dedicated to the Mueller probe and, by extension, the claim that Mifsud is a Russian asset, rather than a Western spy. Whether the balance of Mifsud’s connections leans toward Rome or Moscow weighs heavily on the credibility of Mueller’s investigation — and his connections to the West are thought to be extensive, as the Washington Times has reported.
Ever since Barr launched his probe of political corruption in the Trump–Russia investigation, the attorney general’s review has been cast as an attempt to “weaponize” the Justice Department to pursue President Trump’s personal grievances. The news that Barr’s probe is now a criminal investigation stretching to Italy has renewed criticism from the media that Barr is chasing “conspiracy theories” as Trump’s “personal lawyer,” but Barr has shown an unflappable calm in dealing with media slander.
“[Durham] is in charge of the investigation, I’m not doing the investigation,” Barr told Fox News in October. And only time will tell what Durham will uncover.