ROME—When Attorney General William Barr showed up at the U.S. embassy’s Palazzo Margherita here on tony Via Veneto last week, he had two primary requests. He needed a conference room to meet high-level Italian security agents where he could be sure no one was listening in. And he needed an extra chair for U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, who would be sitting in as his right-hand man.
Barr was in Rome on an under-the-radar mission that was only planned a few days in advance. An official with the embassy confirmed to The Daily Beast that they had to scramble to accommodate Barr’s sudden arrival. He had been in Italy before, but not with such a clear motive. Barr and Durham are looking into the events that led to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and suddenly all roads were leading to Rome.
The Daily Beast has learned that Barr and Durham were especially interested in what the Italian secret service knew about Joseph Mifsud, the erstwhile professor from Malta who had allegedly promised then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign aide George Papadopoulos he could deliver Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. 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.
Ever since Robert Mueller concluded his probe in March 2019, Barr has worked to blunt its impact—and investigate the investigators behind it. Barr assigned Durham to look into the Mueller probe’s origins. And the attorney general’s name is listed in the whistleblower complaint about the July 25 call Trump made to the Ukrainian president to pressure him into investigating political rival Joe Biden. According to the complaint, Barr was directly involved in the president’s attempt to “solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The minutiae of his involvement are feeding a scandal gripping Washington that changes by the nano-second.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not return numerous emails and calls for clarification about Barr, Durham, and Mifsud. But it did issue a statement Monday confirming the American legal team had been in the Eternal City.
“As the Department of Justice has previously announced, a team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is investigating the origins of the U.S. counterintelligence probe of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign,” Kerri Kupec, the Justice Department spokesperson, said in a statement. “Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries. At Attorney General Barr’s request, the president has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the attorney general and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials.”
The Italian intelligence community had Mifsud on its radar for some years before he got involved in the Trump campaign’s troubles. His affiliations with both the Link University of Rome and London Center of International Law Practice—both often affiliated with Western diplomacy and foreign intelligence agencies—made him an easy target. So did the slew of apartments he owned in Malta that are allegedly tied to a racket involving Russians buying Maltese passports for cheap.
What Mifsud did or didn’t know about Clinton’s emails is still murky; what Barr and Durham were privy to is even less clear. Papadopoulos has distanced himself from the professor, tweeting just this week that he “exposed Mifsud’s connections to Italian intelligence” even though the Italians were watching him long before they parted ways.
Mifsud met Papadopoulos when he and his Italian wife, Simona Mangiante, a lawyer and part-time model and actress who now has a clothing line, both worked for a company Mifsud ran. Mangiante told The Daily Beast that she met Mifsud while doing legal consulting for the European Parliament. Mifsud’s ties to Russia seemed potentially useful to her husband, who was then an integral part of the Trump campaign’s foreign-policy advisory panel at the time.
Before he disappeared, Mifsud said he had met Papadopoulos “three or four times,” helping to facilitate connections between “official and unofficial sources” in Italy, Russia, and Ukraine. He denied any wrongdoing but went into hiding–either on his own or through the Italian protective services—in 2017 and has only been seen in sporadic photos since.
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.
The sources in Rome who confirmed that Barr and Durham came to learn more about Mifsud also told The Daily Beast that they expected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet the same intelligence agencies on his state visit that began Tuesday.
Pompeo is meeting the Italian president, the prime minister, and Pope Francis while in Rome. His official mandate is to discuss Libya, China trade, and sanctions on Russia, which Italy does not support. Pompeo will also be spending time with U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich and her husband, Newt. The secretary of state is giving a keynote address at one of the ambassador’s events on religious freedom at the Vatican, and has arranged some free time for a private viewing of the ancient Roman Colosseum. He will briefly visit the hamlet of Valle Peligna, where his grandfather is from and where, perhaps coincidentally, Madonna’s Italian family also has roots. He is then heading to Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Greece before returning to Washington.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect changes to Simona Mangiante’s employment status.