Italy has no use for AG Bill Barr’s conspiracy theory

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/24/19, 9:00 PM ET

Criminal inquiry opened into Trump-Russia probe's origins: NYT

Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about breaking news that the investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation is now a criminal investigation, giving new powers to U.S. Attorney
Attorney General Bill Barr has long been focused on the origins of the Russia scandal, to the point that there is reportedly a criminal investigation underway that could target American law enforcement and intelligence officials who examined Russia’s 2016 attack. That probe was technically assigned to U.S. Attorney John Durham.

But that’s not to say Barr is somehow taking a hands-off role in the process. As Rachel noted near the top of last night’s show, the sitting U.S. attorney general, an unabashed Donald Trump loyalist, has apparently been personally involved in traveling the world, meeting with foreign officials, hoping to find evidence to support a conspiracy theory that would disprove the facts surrounding his boss’ Russia scandal.

The theory itself is plainly bonkers, and even many congressional Republicans have no use for it. But Barr keeps racking up frequent-flier miles, including making stops in Italy – where the prime minister was asked by Italian lawmakers to explain what in the world the American attorney general wanted. The New York Times published this striking report yesterday:

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said his country’s intelligence services had informed the American attorney general, William P. Barr, that they played no role in the events leading to the Russia investigation, taking the air out of an unsubstantiated theory promoted by President Trump and his allies in recent weeks.

“Our intelligence is completely unrelated to the so-called Russiagate and that has been made clear,” Mr. Conte said in a news conference in Rome on Wednesday evening after spending hours describing Italy’s discussions with Mr. Barr to the parliamentary committee on intelligence.

Mr. Conte publicly acknowledged for the first time that Mr. Barr had twice met with the leaders of Italy’s intelligence agencies after asking them to clarify their role in a 2016 meeting between a Maltese professor and a Trump campaign adviser on a small college campus in Rome, Link Campus University.

As bizarre as this may sound, the American attorney general appears to have gone to allied nations, looking for damaging information about American officials, which he thought might help Donald Trump.

Italy, not surprisingly, had no such information, and seemed baffled as to what the United States’ top law-enforcement official was looking for.

The precise details of the conspiracy theory are a bit mind-numbing, and they involve George Papadopoulos, who served as an adviser to the Trump campaign, a London-based Maltese professor named Josef Mifsud, and assorted characters. It’s all quite ridiculous, and for more information along these lines, I’d recommend last night’s A block and this Vox piece from last month.

But stepping back, the big picture is profoundly embarrassing, not just for the administration, but for all of us. The United States – the world’s preeminent superpower, ostensibly the global leader on matters of international affairs – has an attorney general who has gone to foreign countries, hat in hand, looking for dirt on his own country’s officials, begging for help with a ridiculous conspiracy, only to be told by our allies, “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”