John Durham, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut tasked with investigating the origins of the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign, has obtained two cell phones belonging to Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud.
Mifsud, who disappeared from public view shortly after his name was outed in the media in 2017, has been cited as having played a key role in events that led the FBI to investigate the Trump campaign. The news of the cell phones was first made known in an Oct. 15, 2019, filing by Sidney Powell, the attorney for Trump’s former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. In the motion, she requested that the U.S. Government be ordered to “produce evidence that has only recently come into its possession.”
The evidence being requested were two Blackberry phones—including all data and metadata—that had been “used by Mr. Joseph Mifsud.”
Powell noted that the information on the phones is “material, exculpatory, and relevant to the defense of Mr. Flynn” and claimed that “OCONUS LURES” and “agents of western intelligence” were tasked against Flynn “as early as 2014.”
The term OCONUS lures, shorthand for spies “Outside the Continental United States,” was featured in a Dec. 28, 2015 text from FBI agent Peter Strzok, the lead FBI agent on the Trump investigation, to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, asking, “You get all our oconus lures approved?”
Powell later disclosed to the Washington Times that it was Justice Department (DOJ) investigator John Durham who obtained the two phones.
The phones could provide crucial pieces of evidence for Durham’s ongoing investigation. Mifsud was described in the final report by special counsel Robert Mueller as a “London-based professor who had connections to Russia and traveled to Moscow in April 2016.” However, there have long been questions about Mifsud’s ties to Western institutions, many of which are detailed in a May 3, 2019, letter from Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
“The Special Counsel’s report further omits any mention of a wide range of contacts Mifsud had with Western political institutions and individuals,” the letter reads.
“Moreover, photographic evidence shows Mifsud has been in close proximity to influential Western political and governmental officials and organizations, and that such officials and organizations participate in Link Campus University events,” it continues.
“If Mifsud has extensive, suspicious contacts among Russian officials as portrayed in the Special Counsel’s report, then an incredibly wide range of Western institutions and individuals may have been compromised by him, including our own State Department.”
If Mifsud was indeed a Russian asset, it would be surprising for the DOJ to have been able to obtain his devices. An analysis of the full record of Mifsud’s ongoing texts and calls during the period when he met with Papadopoulos could provide evidence as to whom Mifsud was working with. If Durham successfully determines that Mifsud was not a Russian asset, as has been alleged, it would provide a major blow to the credibility of the launch of the FBI’s probe as well as the integrity of the Mueller Report.
Durham’s acquisition of Mifsud’s phones also begs the question of how he was able to obtain them so quickly when the investigation led by Mueller failed to do so after more than two years of work and more than $30 million in costs.
Durham and Barr Trip to Italy
Durham, who recently broadened the timeline and added agents and resources to his ongoing investigation into the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation, traveled in late September to Italy along with Attorney General William Barr to meet with law enforcement officials.
Both Durham and Barr have also reportedly spoken with officials from the UK and Australia as part of their ongoing investigation.
Barr and Durham’s trip to Italy occurred at the end of September and appears to have been planned only a few days in advance. According to the Daily Beast, an official at the U.S. embassy in Italy noted that “they had to scramble to accommodate Barr’s sudden arrival.”
The Guardian reported that Barr and Durham’s meetings with Italian intelligence officials occurred “after getting authorisation from the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.” According to the article, they were in Italy in order to “find out whether Italy had played a role in the so-called Russiagate affair, whether secret documents had been obtained and, in particular, to collate information on Joseph Mifsud.”
Barr and Durham reportedly had at least two meetings with Italian intelligence officials on Sept. 27 where they listened to a tape recording of a deposition given by Mifsud after he had applied for “police protection in Italy after disappearing from Link University,” the Daily Beast reported. Additionally, they were reportedly “shown other evidence the Italians had on Mifsud.”
The Daily Beast also noted that “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.”
A significant question that remains is whether Durham obtained Mifsud’s Blackberrys prior to, or during, the Italy trip, and whether the data on the phones played a role in the sudden visit.
Without naming specific countries, the DOJ appeared to confirm the visit by Barr and Durham in a Sept. 30 statement, noting that “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.”
“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,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in the Sept. 30 statement.
Mifsud at Center of Trump-Russia Allegations
Mifsud is the university professor who met several times with Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos in the spring of 2016. Papadopoulos first met Mifsud on March 14, 2016, one week after joining the Trump campaign, at Link Campus in Rome.
“They introduce me to Josef Mifsud at this university in Rome called Link Campus,” Papadopoulos told Dan Bongino during a Nov. 2, 2018, interview. “This isn’t any normal university. At the time, I had no idea what this place was. But apparently, it’s a training ground for Western intelligence operatives in Rome. The CIA has held symposiums there.”
Papadopoulos reportedly had several additional unusual meetings with Mifsud.
During a March 24, 2016, meeting, Mifsud brought along a young woman named Olga Polonskaya (Vinogradova is her maiden name), who was introduced to him as “Putin’s niece.” Papadopoulos noted that others played up her supposed status.
“A week later, I’m back in London, preparing my life to move back to the U.S. and he emails me out of the blue, ‘I need to introduce you to a very important girl.’ … I go back to the LCILP [London Center for International Law Practice], and all of a sudden, the directors over there are telling me, ‘Guys, this is Putin’s niece.’ So, they were all in on this scam. It wasn’t just Mifsud telling me that I’m meeting Putin’s niece. It was the directors at the LCILP,” Papadopoulos said in the interview with Dan Bongino.
It was during an April 26, 2016, meeting where Mifsud told Papadopoulos, “George, I have information that the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails.” A version of this comment would be famously relayed to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer during a May 10, 2016, meeting in a London bar.
This meeting, which has been cited as the sole reason the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016, was not by chance. It was set up through a chain of two intermediaries. The information relayed was limited and, significantly, appears similar to information later contained in the first memo from former British spy Christopher Steele that the FBI obtained in early July 2016.
According to Downer, Papadopoulos at some point mentioned the Russians had damaging information on Clinton.
“During that conversation, he [Papadopoulos] mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,’’ Downer told The Australian about the Papadopoulos meeting in an April 2018 article.
Downer made clear in his interview that Papadopoulos did not say what the information was.
“He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was,” Downer said.
Downer also said that none of the comments from Papadopoulos indicated that Trump had any knowledge of what was being discussed.
“Nothing he [Papadopoulos] said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Downer’s version of events—that he wasn’t told of any specifics regarding information the Russians allegedly had on Clinton—was later corroborated by a memo written by the minority of the House intelligence committee. On page 2 of the memo, the congressmen state: “We would later learn in Papadopoulos’s [October 2017] plea that the information the Russians could assist by anonymously releasing were thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.”
Downer’s conversation with Papadopoulos was reportedly disclosed to the FBI on July 22, 2016, through Australian government channels, although it may have come directly from Downer himself.
Details from the conversation between Downer and Papadopoulos were then used by the FBI to open its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016.
The FBI and special counsel Mueller have maintained that Mifsud was a Russian asset, but many others, including Papadopoulos, have stated that Mifsud is a member of Western intelligence.