The Italian Job: ‘Spygate’ probe goes criminal

The Italian Job: ‘Spygate’ probe goes criminal
AG William Barr (L; C-SPAN video); USDA John Durham (R; DOJ)

Thursday evening brought news that the Durham “review” of the Justice Department/FBI handling of the “Russia-Trump” operation has become a criminal investigation.

Originally, the matter was called an administrative review.  In being designated a criminal investigation, it will allow for such measures as convening grand juries and issuing subpoenas.  It can lead to indictments, trials, and convictions.

This information comes the same week as the news that Durham wants to interview John Brennan and James Clapper, the top national intelligence officials involved in the “Russia-Trump” operation.

The report on the decision to “go criminal” also comes with an added detail from Fox’s Catherine Herridge.  According to her reports, the catalyst for the decision to pursue this as a criminal investigation came from the visits of Attorney General William Barr and federal DA John Durham to Italy in August and September.  It was information they obtained during meetings in Rome that tipped the scales on the potential for criminal indictments.

Interest had quickly focused on Rome more than a week ago, when Michael Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell filed a motion for access to two phones used by Joseph Mifsud, which had recently come into the possession of the DOJ.  Spygate watchers assumed the phones had been acquired in Italy – where Mifsud has been hiding out under the wing of Italian agencies – during the Barr and Durham visits.

The appearance of cooperation from Italian authorities was a welcome one.  Just how significant it may be is suggested not only by the decision this week to move to a criminal investigation, but by the timing of events related to Italian involvement, in the months since John Durham was appointed to begin his “review” in May 2019.

As so often, it is well worth reviewing the events as a timeline.  In this case, the implications from the sequence of events would go pretty deep as indicators of the import of Spygate.  The effort to undo the 2016 election and oust Trump, we may gather, is not just a rogue campaign by a few SES-level U.S. government officials and their associates in political consulting firms and the media.

The timeline

13 May 2019:  DOJ announces Durham’s formal appointment to conduct a review of the DOJ/FBI handling of the “Russia” probe.  At the time, news outlets report that Durham had already been working on the review unannounced “for weeks.”

16 May 2019:  Reports emerge that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has abruptly requested resignations from four of the highest-level intelligence officials in Italy.  That brought the total of vacated Italian intelligence positions to a remarkable six, with two others having resigned not long before.

25 May 2019:  Gateway Pundit reports on a case in Italian courts involving a tech entrepreneur, Giulio Occhionero, who alleges that an Italian agency penetrated his systems in 2016 in order to gain access to servers he operates in the United States.  The purpose, according to Occhionero – and it’s an allegation he has formally lodged in an Italian court – was to plant Hillary Clinton emails on the servers and accuse Trump associates of having put them there.  Occhionero has also sent this allegation in a letter to members of Congress.

A particularly noteworthy aspect of the allegation is that the Italian agency involved is said to be the CNAIPIC of the Polizia Postale, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior.  (See here for more on the activities of CNAIPIC agents in the U.S. in May 2017.  As made clear at my 16 May link and the two Gateway Pundit links, the CNAIPIC interactions with the Occhionero servers in Washington state and West Virginia occurred during the nine days running from an eventful Milan visit by former President Obama, to the dismissal of James Comey from the FBI, and the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.  Again, the source of the CNAIPIC information is Giulio Occhionero’s court filings, with English reporting on their content linked from the last two Gateway Pundit links.)

16 June 2019:  George Papadopoulos tweets that former President Obama is “heading to Italy today to meet with the former Italian prime minister [i.e., Matteo Renzi] who weaponized his intel assets against us.”

That tweet, apparently based on Italian sources, would indicate the second time Obama met with Renzi after Obama departed office.  The first was in May 2017, during the visit to Milan recounted in my link at the 16 May entry (above).  The focus in my May 2019 article was on Obama’s meeting with a very Link Campus-connected dignitary, Giampiero Massolo, a retired foreign service official and former director of the Italian DIS (the counterpart to the U.S. ODNI).  People reported, however, that Obama also met with Renzi on the same May 2017 visit to Milan.

As the 20 June 2019 entry indicates (below), Obama was indeed in Milan again, at the time Papadopoulos reported.  Please keep in mind that these are two different meetings.  A number of bloggers are getting the two mixed up, and using information from the May 2017 meeting to characterize the reported June 2019 meeting.

17 June 2019:  Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister of the Interior) Matteo Salvini visits Washington, D.C. for talks with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo.  As Reuters noted with apparent skepticism at the time, “Salvini, who also serves as interior minister in the government, has no direct say in foreign policy, which is overseen by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero — neither of whom have direct political affiliation with any group.”

In other words, it wasn’t entirely clear to Reuters why Salvini was in Washington talking to the U.S. Secretary of State.

Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, most definitely NOT at Link Campus, at a rally in Milan on 18 May 2019. YouTube, Matteo Salvini

20 June 2019Daily Mail reports that former President Obama and Michelle Obama, who arrived in Milan on 16 June after sojourning in France, are to visit at George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como in northern Italy on 21 and 22 June.

Note that Matteo Salvini’s visit to Washington was known about sometime prior to the actual visit date.  It is by no means fanciful to suppose that there was a connection.  I.e., Obama and Renzi may have felt it necessary to meet at least partly because of what Salvini would likely be talking about in D.C. – especially given the rash of resignations from Italian intelligence immediately after the Durham review was announced.

15 August 2019:  William Barr meets with Italian intelligence officials in Rome.  Numerous media are now reporting on the August meeting, but Catherine Herridge provided the specific date of 15 August for it in her reporting this past week (23 October; tweeted videos above).  It was probably during this meeting that the agreement was made for the handover of the Mifsud phones.

20 August 2019:  Matteo Salvini withdraws his Italian League party’s support for the Giuseppe Conte government, a move that would prompt a snap election if other parties found no way to put together a government again.  Salvini had been urging a snap election since 8 August, reportedly based on polling that appeared favorable to the League’s chances to take the lead in a governing coalition.  Collapsing the Conte government was a bold and risky move, however.

There is no suggestion here of U.S. influence on Salvini’s actions.  The timing of the cooperation meeting with Barr may still have been a factor for Salvini.  He has all along been a skeptic of the intentions of Italian intelligence agencies (see the 16 May entry link), and in particular of their insular connection with Link Campus, the nexus of Italian officialdom with other Western intelligence agencies and a major player in Spygate – as well as the favorite think-tank of the opposing 5 Star Movement party with which Salvini’s League has been forced to share power.

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte. YouTube, Italia News

Salvini was also the minister in charge of the CNAIPIC, accused by Giulio Occhionero of skulduggery in the anti-Trump machinations in the U.S.  Occhionero’s account of his travails has suggested that Salvini probably had little latitude, in the uneasy coalition behind the Conte government, to give CNAIPIC a good wirebrushing and shake out the extent of its role.  But it’s a reasonable guess that Salvini would do more if he could.

That eagerness would not be just to help the United States.  It would be to wrestle down the “deep state” in Italy.  The high risk of Salvini’s August move gives a hint at the size of the stakes revolving around the political pattern of which America’s Spygate is merely the most spectacular instance.

28 August 2019:  Reports indicate that Salvini’s opponents in the 5 Star Movement have managed, in a surprise development, to put together a new government under Conte’s continued stewardship with the Italian Democrats (i.e., democratic socialists).

This means two important things for Spygate: first, that Salvini (although he remains in the parliament, of course) would no longer be deputy PM or hold a ministerial post; and second, that his skeptical preference for probing the intelligence agencies and holding them accountable would not prevail in the Italian government, at least for the time being.

This didn’t mean the agreements made in the Barr meeting would not be kept.  But for everyone concerned about exposure from the Durham probe – likely including numerous politicians in the U.S. and parties in the UK and Australia (and quite possibly Ukraine as well) – it was reassuring news.  As far as Spygate goes, Matteo Salvini would not be in a position to change Italy’s overall stance from dike-plugging to swamp-draining.  (That would seem to have the same implication for the very specific instance of the CNAIPIC.  The Minister of the Interior is now Luciana Lamorgese.  She’s a civil servant – not an elected parliamentarian – and is focused on reversing Salvini’s immigration policy to suit the EU, but doesn’t have the political juice or motive to take on the intelligence or other deep state bureaucracies.)

For the Italian “deep state,” Salvini is a bullet dodged for the time being.  If he had prevailed and forced a snap election, we’d be hearing a whole lot more about this.  Again, see the link at the 16 May 2019 entry for background on why his 5 Star Movement opponents are the Link Campus-involved group to watch, and have the connections in common with Mifsud and the whole network of Spygate.  (The Italian Democrats, of whom Mifsud crony and Hillary associate Gianni Pittella is a member, have links of their own.)

Mifsud (L) and Pittella (R) share the stage with interviewer Matteo Donati of the Democratic (Socialist) Youth organization in June 2017.

5 September 2019:  The Conte government under the new coalition is sworn in.  For good measure, state prosecutors are now pursuing a defamation complaint against Salvini brought by migration activist Carola Rackete.

13 September 2019: The threat of unexpected exposure from Italy now being suppressed for the moment, Adam Schiff fires the opening volley of the “Ukraine whistleblower” campaign with a subpoena for the complaint to the acting Director of National Intelligence (which Schiff has had a copy of since 12 August, and has known about since before that).

24 September 2019:  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces “formal” impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine phone call allegations from the “whistleblower” complaint, an act taken without a vote and without published rules for procedure.

27 September 2019:  Barr and Durham visit Rome.  Again, Catherine Herridge has the specific date reference.

14 October 2019: Michael Flynn attorney Sidney Powell files a court motion requesting defense access to the Blackberry phones used by Joseph Mifsud.  Later reporting confirms that the phones, with UK SIM cards, were obtained by John Durham, probably during meetings with the Italians in Rome (where Mifsud has been for some time).  Powell’s motion shows that the Flynn defense was aware of the phones’ existence sometime before 11 October, when she contacted DOJ about them by phone.  Given the timeline of the Flynn motion, it is probable that the DOJ knew the phones were in the works prior to the 27 September meeting in Rome; i.e., as early as the 15 August meeting.

22 October 2019:  Media reports indicate that Durham wants to interview John Brennan and James Clapper, the top national intelligence officials involved in the “Russia-Trump” operation.  Given the Barr and Durham meetings in Italy, and the retrieval of the Mifsud phones, observers suspect the specific interest in Brennan and Clapper is related to Mifsud’s Spygate role and information from the Italians.

24 October 2019:  Media reports indicate the review of DOJ/FBI activities in the “Russia-Trump” operation is now a criminal investigation.  Fox New confirms it has shifted to a criminal investigation because of the meetings in Italy in August and September.

The brain trust, briefing Congress in 2014. (Image: Defense Intelligence Agency)

Exit points

As we survey the sequence of events, it is important to emphasize that the point here is not to posit simplistic cause and effect.  Rather, it is to illuminate relevant context.

There are two final points to make about that.  One is that the cognizant actors – mainly government officials, currently serving or ex officio – could not fail to be aware of the other events in the timeline (i.e., the ones in which they weren’t directly involved).

Such awareness goes with the environment they operate in.  The public may find out only months or even years later, but for the high-level government officials, the drama of cognition is not one of ignorance, mystery, and revelation.

The same can be said of the “in-crowd” in media and consulting firms, along with the “civil society” institutions in which all these players interact, from Link Campus to National Security Action to the Aspen Institute, Hakluyt, the Atlantic Council, and the European Council on Foreign Relations.

When dozens of the same people show a propensity to work with each other, and then have numerous, documented opportunities for doing so, it would be poor analysis indeed to simply assume that they didn’t.  It would be equally poor analysis to assume away the events that affect their environment as influences on their decisions and intentions.

Monica Showalter most usefully compared Obama’s Europe-hopping in 2019 to the intrigues of the Medici of 15th-century Italy.  It’s useful not because it’s by any means unique to Obama, but because it’s a reminder that intrigue and conspiracy are merely identifiable patterns that don’t explain everything, and that coexist with other forms of explanatory human behavior, no more or less describable or quantifiable by empirical analysis.  Showalter’s allusion reminds us that 500 years from now, it will be no skin off any living person’s nose to recognize actual evidence from the 2016 timeframe of people planning and plotting together.  Our descendants will laugh at the idea that anyone resisted calling it what it is.

It takes much more than the Medici to explain the Renaissance, Reformation, rise of seapower, shift of Europe’s momentum from “Rome” to the windswept northwest, the fall of Constantinople and the Battle of Lepanto, the Age of Exploration, and so forth.  But leave out the Medici, and that same history is a tale told by an idiot.

Likewise, there is much more going on in the world today than deep-state intrigues against the politicians and pundits leading a popular wave of anti-“globalism.”  But it reduces us to blithering idiocy to ignore (or pretend away) the recurrence of the same patterns of intrigue, whether it’s blaming nationalist electoral trends around the planet on “Russian bots,” or using propaganda themes to attack politicians and voters who prefer secure national borders as hate-filled genocidal racists, or seeking to undo the results of elections with vividly similar campaigns of endless sabotage (e.g., U.S. 2016, Brexit), or working overtime to terrify the people about exchanging information on the Internet unsupervised by government minders.

This frames for us the second and final point, one I have made several times before.  The events of Spygate are just a series of visible developments, pointing us to disquieting patterns in culture and public organization that are deeper, more pervasive, and less visible.  Some of the events of Spygate are criminal in nature.  But far more of them are not.

Merely obtaining criminal convictions cannot prevent Spygate from happening again.  The sooner we grapple with that, the better.

A flame that needs tending. Pixabay
J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.