ROME (AFP) — Italy’s prime minister gave permission for U.S. Attorney General William Barr to meet Rome’s intelligence services as part of Trump-led efforts to discredit claims he has ties with Russia, media reported Wednesday.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte approved two meetings Barr held with spy chief Gennaro Vecchione, according to the Corriere della Sera, the country’s leading newspaper.
Barr has had multiple contacts with officials and spies in Australia, Britain and Italy in a bid to investigate a probe which concluded that Russia tried to swing the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.
He first traveled to Rome in August to gather information the White House hopes will undermine the probe, Italian media said.
He returned on Friday again to meet Vecchione, the head of the Department of Information for Security (DIS), just ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Italy’s capital.
Robert Mueller’s probe led to the conviction of several of Trump’s top aides for obstruction and lying to investigators.
But ahead of the 2020 election Trump has painted the investigation and its findings as a “deep state” conspiracy, pointing to conservative media reports as evidence and urging the Justice Department to launch counter-investigations.
Burr reportedly asked the Italian secret services to hand over any information they have on Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor at a Rome university suspected by the Americans of being an Italian- or British-run spy.
Mifsud is alleged to have promised Trump’s former campaign manager George Papadopoulos some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The professor was working at Rome’s Link Campus university until 2017, when Papadopoulos was jailed for lying to the FBI.
Papadopoulos’s allegation that several “spies” had been sent to entrap him has gained currency in Trump’s White House.
Mifsud dropped off the radar, but the Corriere said he was holed up in an apartment owned by a company with ties to Link Campus until May 2018.
Link Campus has close relations with both the intelligence services community and Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), part of the ruling coalition, the dailies said.
Burr and investigator John Durham “warned” Vecchione that the United States is concerned the ties between Link and leading M5S figures — including Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio — could affect Italy’s willingness to cooperate, the Repubblica daily said.
According to the Daily Beast, Mifsud applied for police protection in Italy and gave a taped deposition explaining why he was in danger — a tape it said Barr and Durham had been played in Rome.
Italy’s parliament will launch an investigation into the meetings between Barr and the secret services, the Corriere and Messaggero reported, saying his repeated calls for information looked like “an attempt to pressure Italy”.
© Agence France-Presse