ROME – Italy’s spy chief Gennaro Vecchione met twice in August with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and prosecutor John Durham to help an investigation into the scandal involving President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia, one of Italy’s leading newspapers reported.
The first meeting took place on Aug. 15 at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, according to an article published Sunday by La Repubblica newspaper. The second happened on Aug. 27 and involved Vecchione, the head of Italy’s Department of Information Security, as well as the chiefs of Italy’s internal and external security agencies.
Both meetings were authorized by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Corriere della Sera reported earlier this week. At the time, Conte was mired in a government crisis that would see him reinstated as the country’s leader, in charge of a new administration. Trump tweeted his support for Conte’s reappointment on Aug. 27, after talking to him at a Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France.
During the first meeting, Barr and Durham asked Vecchione to reveal the whereabouts of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, according to La Repubblica. He’s key in Trump’s efforts to show he was the victim of foreign meddling in the 2016 election and not the beneficiary of interference by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller found.
Mifsud, an adviser to Rome’s Link Campus University, allegedly informed Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had emails damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton, an assertion that became part of Mueller’s investigation. On October 5, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. At around the same time Mifsud went missing.
According to La Repubblica, Barr and Durham also demanded proof that Italy, led at the time by Matteo Renzi, took part in the international conspiracy to discredit Trump’s campaign. In an interview published Sunday by La Stampa, Renzi dismissed the allegation as a “farce” and says he never met Mifsud.
At the Aug. 27 meeting with Barr and Durham, the heads of Italy’s security services had nothing to say to support the theory, according to La Repubblica – despite Vecchione’s initial promises. Both meetings took part without Conte informing Parliament or the rest of the government, the newspaper reports. Conte may now have to address a parliamentary committee on the encounters.
Trump’s inquiry is also having an impact on Italy’s fragile coalition, where Renzi is the head of one of the four parties supporting Conte’s center-left, pro-European government. In the La Stampa interview, Renzi urged Conte to relinquish direct control of security services and hand it to a minister or undersecretary, as was the practice in the past.