by Chuck Ross
An Italian newspaper released an audio statement provided by someone claiming to be Joseph Mifsud, the mysterious Maltese professor whose contacts in 2016 with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos were a central but unresolved aspect of the special counsel’s Russia probe.
In the seven-minute recording, published by the outlet Corriere della Sera, the person cryptically said it was “extremely important that somebody somewhere decides to let me breathe again.”
The man said he had limited public contact in the two years since the special counsel revealed links between Mifsud and Papadopoulos as part of the Trump aide’s plea deal with the government.
He also denied knowingly having contact with anyone in “secret service, intelligence service, or anybody of this sort.” The statement, if it is from Mifsud, would be a rebuttal of two competing theories about what the academic was up to during the 2016 campaign.
The FBI and special counsel’s office has asserted that Mifsud was a possible Russian agent sent to help the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos and some Trump allies have promoted a different theory: that Mifsud was working on behalf of Western intelligence agencies to set up the campaign by sharing information related to Russian hacks of Democrats’ emails.
In his plea deal, Papadopoulos said that Mifsud told him during an April 26, 2016 meeting in London that he had learned that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails.
The individual in the recording did not mention Papadopoulos by name, or specifically mention Russia. But he did seem to address speculation about the purpose of his meeting with Papadopoulos.
“It never was my intent to try to obtain any information to pass from one side to the other. I was never, never in possession to information that could be useful to one or the other. All I knew were people, people who came from think tanks,” the man said in the recording, which was sent to Corriere della Sera on Tuesday.
Mifsud’s associates have expressed mixed opinions about whether his is the voice in the recording. Stephan Roh, who has served as Mifsud’s lawyer in the past, told Italian news outlet Adnkronos the voice did not sound like his client. BuzzFeed News reported that Mifsud’s ex-girlfriend believed the man to be Mifsud. BuzzFeed also reported that Bellingcat compared known recordings of Mifsud’s voice and determined that he likely made the Nov. 11 statement.
It is not clear why the man, if it is Mifsud, is coming forward. But Attorney General William Barr has shown a renewed interest in finding out what role Mifsud played in 2016.
He and U.S. attorney John Durham, who is investigating the origins of the Trump probe, visited with Italian intelligence officials in Rome in September, where they reportedly listened to a separate recording of Mifsud.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI on Jan. 27, 2017, about the timeline and extent of his contacts with Mifsud, who worked with think tanks in Rome, London and elsewhere in Europe. The special counsel’s team also determined Mifsud lied during an FBI interview in February 2017 about his contacts with Papadopoulos, though he was not charged in the special counsel’s investigation.
Papadopoulos admitted that he falsely told the FBI that he met Mifsud before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016. Instead, the pair met just after Papadopoulos joined the Trump team. They remained in contact for several months, and discussed the possibility of the Trump campaign meeting with members of the Russian government.
Those meetings never took place. Mifsud also introduced Papadopoulos through email to Ivan Timofeev, a director at the Russian International Affairs Council, a foreign policy think tank linked to Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Joseph Mifsud” by Valdai Club.