Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters on Monday in Rome that he never personally met Attorney General William Barr when he came to Rome in August and September to investigate a mysterious Maltese professor at the heart of the Russian investigation. But he did admit that he had lined up the meetings with Italy’s intelligence chief without telling members of his cabinet. He also said that the meetings only proved that the Italians had nothing to do with “Russiagate” and that Barr essentially discussed American operations in Italy and nothing else.
Conte held a brief press conference after leaving a special intelligence committee meeting where he was called to explain just why he paved the way for Barr to meet with Italy’s secret service chief, and why he told neither his own vice prime ministers or any government officials. Conte also tried to lay to rest widespread speculation that he arranged the meetings as a favor to President Donald Trump by denying a flattering tweet sent by the president was a covert thank you. “It has even been said that President Trump’s famous tweet, through which he expressed appreciation towards me, would somehow be connected to this affair,” Conte said. “This is also false, completely false, because Trump did not tell me about this investigation. And, I repeat, the American request dates back to June and was not made by President Trump, but was made by Barr.” He then said Barr followed “protocol” and that he, as prime minister, “did nothing wrong” in arranging the secret meetings.