There probably aren’t that many citizens of Mediterranean countries who are also professors of diplomacy in London possessing ties to well-connected Russians. Fewer still have been colleagues of George Papadopolous, the former Donald Trump foreign-policy adviser whom has now flipped into a cooperating witness for special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
But Joseph Mifsud says he’s not the right professor – not, in other words, the guy who tried to pass “dirt” from Russia on Hillary Clinton into the hands of Team Trump.
“For me, it’s a laughing matter,” Mifsud, reached on his cellphone, told The Daily Beast.
It may not be so funny for very long. The FBI affidavit unsealed Monday for Papadopolous’ plea deal indicated that a certain London-based professor instrumental in arranging connections between Papadopoulos and supposedly Kremlin-tied Russians – one of whom pretended to be Vladimir Putin’s niece – was a “citizen of a country in the Mediterranean” and also a “professor of diplomacy based in London.”
Mifsud was born in Malta in 1960. He currently is the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy at the University of Stirling. Both he and Papadopolous were affiliated with the London Centre for International Law Practice.
Additionally, The Washington Post matched what appears to be an email from Papadopolous cited in the court papers with one described to the paper in August in which Papadopolous identified Mifsud as his contact. Back then, Mifsud said he had “absolutely no contact with the Russian government.” He reiterated that claim to The Daily Beast on Monday.
"I do not know anybody from the Russian government, let's put it this way," he said, denying he had passed messages from Russian officials to Papadopolous or anyone else in the Trump campaign. "I am an academic."
In the FBI affidavit, the relevant professor is only described as “Foreign Contact 1,” without a name attached, and listed as “an associate of several Russian nationals.” In the stipulation of facts attached to Papadopolous’ plea, the same individual is only described as “the Professor.”
According to the stipulation, Papadopolous and the “Professor” met in Italy, not London, around March 14, 2016. The professor became interested in Papadopolous after realizing he was a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, and met with Papadopolous in London on March 24, bringing along a woman who described herself as a relative of Vladimir Putin. They talked about introducing the young Papadopolous to the Russian ambassador to the U.K. but never did.
By April 11, after Papadopolous had met personally with Trump, the professor and the Russian woman were all on an email chain with Papadopolous in which the campaign adviser sought a meeting in Russia to discuss foreign policy. The professor replied: "This is already been agreed. I am flying to Moscow on the 18th for a Valdai meeting, plus other meetings at the Duma.”
Mifsud attended a Valdai summit in Sochi, Russia, on April 19, 2016.
It would be another two weeks before the outreach took a turn.
Papadopolous stated in the stipulation that he had breakfast with the professor at a London hotel on April 26, 2016. The professor, recently returned from Moscow, told Papadopolous that he had learned the “Russians had obtained ‘dirt’ on then-candidate Clinton” in the form of “emails of Clinton… they have thousands of emails.”
It is not entirely clear which tranche of emails the professor was referring to the Russians possessing. That same month, a hacker group affiliated with Russian intelligence and known as Fancy Bear had breached the network defenses of the Democratic National Committee. The hack would not be public until July. WikiLeaks, however, had by March 16, 2016 published a searchable archive of Clinton emails from her private server obtained, the group explained, through the Freedom of Information Act. WikiLeaks has denied any connection with the Russian government.
Either way, Papadopolous believed the information was valuable to the Trump campaign, and circulated, according to the stipulation, to senior campaign officials the prospect of a meetup with the Russian government. He told the professor around April 30, 2016 that “it’s history making if it happens,” thanking the professor for his “critical help.”
The “history making” meeting didn’t happen. But as late as August 15, an unnamed “campaign supervisor” told Papadopolous, “I would encourage you” and unnamed campaign advisor to “make the trip, if it is feasible.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, on Monday described Papadopolous as a low-level campaign “volunteer on a council that met once” whose attempts to interest the campaign in a Moscow meeting were greeted with disinterest.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2016, the professor introduced Papadopolous to someone identified in the stipulation as a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contact in the hope of setting up a parley between Putin and Trump or a Trump deputy. “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for a high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation,” the professor told Papadopolous.
Mifsud told The Daily Beast that he’s not the right person. Asked whom Papadopolous’ contact was if not Mifsud himself – particularly given the specific descriptions of a Mediterranean citizen who happens to be a London diplomacy professor who knows Papadopolous – Mifsud declined to comment.
At first, he declined to say whether Papadopolous was an associate. "At this stage, I think it's premature to mention that," he said, before accepting that he was, in fact, familiar with the man named in one of Mueller's indictments today. "We all know each other and he knows many, many others."
An effort at reaching Papadopolous was unsuccessful.
Mifsud said he had not yet had the chance to read Mueller's indictments in full because he had spent the day in meetings with a European justice minister.
"I have not had the time to look at this. I am looking forward to reading it from an academic point of view," he said, before adding that he had not been named in the document. "There is no mention of me being the professor," he said.