An academic suspected of being the link between a Trump campaign adviser and the Russian government told a business contact that Moscow had a trove of information about Hillary Clinton in April 2016, months before the information was public, CNN has learned.
Joseph Mifsud, a London-based academic from Malta, also boasted of his connections with Moscow and talked about how he had dinner in a small group with President Vladimir Putin, the business contact and a former assistant told CNN.
Mifsud matches the profile of “Foreign Contact 1” in the legal complaint against George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with foreign contacts.
According to unsealed court papers Papadopoulos held a series of meetings in early 2016 with “Foreign Contact 1,” also described as “the professor.” Papadopoulos and Mifsud were Facebook friends, Papadopoulos’ now-deleted Facebook account showed.
Mifsud, who is not accused of wrongdoing, has not responded to multiple CNN attempts to contact him. He told the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that the allegations were exaggerated. “I have a clear conscience,” he told the paper.
Mifsud told the business contact in April 2016 that Moscow held a large amount of information about Hillary Clinton, who was then running for president. Mifsud said: “These guys (Russia) have a whole bunch of stuff on Clinton,” the contact told CNN.
According to court papers, the contact used similar language in a meeting with Papadopoulos, who was then a foreign policy aide to the Trump campaign. “Papadopoulos further stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians ‘have dirt on her,’ meaning Clinton, and that they have ‘thousands of emails,’” the FBI affidavit says. That meeting, in London, also took place in April 2016.
A trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee were published in July 2016. A separate cache of emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign, was published in October and November 2016.
Mifsud’s profile matches in several key respects the figure described as “the professor” and “Foreign Contact 1” in Papadopoulos’ FBI affidavit. The court papers describe him as a professor of diplomacy based in London who is a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean.
Mifsud is from the Mediterranean island of Malta and is the honorary director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. The academy used to be attached to the University of East Anglia but later fell under the auspices of the University of Stirling in Scotland. The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that it was dissolved last year.
The University of East Anglia confirmed that Mifsud held an honorary professorship there from August 2013 to July 2016. “The University of East Anglia no longer has any links with the London Academy of Diplomacy or Joseph Mifsud,” the university said in a statement to CNN.
Mifsud is currently listed on Stirling University’s website as a teaching fellow. “Professor Joseph Mifsud has been a full-time professorial teaching fellow in the university’s politics department since May 2017,” Stirling University said in a statement.
The business contact – who requested anonymity in order to protect confidential relationships – described Mifsud as being pro-Russian in outlook. Mifsud would boast about his links to Russia, the source told CNN, saying that he had been to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi and had dinner in a small group with President Vladimir Putin.
The founder of the London Academy of Diplomacy and Mifsud’s former employer, Nabil Ayad, told the Times of Malta that Mifsud knew a lot of senior Russians.
“He knew a number of top Russian officials because of these contacts. He has been involved in education for a considerable time,” Ayad was quoted as saying.
Papadopoulos told the FBI that his contact was flying to Moscow on April 18, 2016 for a conference. On April 19, Mifsud spoke at the Valdai Club, a think tank with close ties to Putin’s government. Putin appears at the club every year for a headline event.
Mifsud later gave an interview about energy policy for the Valdai Club Youtube channel. The Valdai Club said in a statement: “Mr Mifsud contributed his commentary to the Valdai Club in the past but no longer does so. All publicly available details are accessible on our website.”
A former assistant to Mifsud told CNN via a social media messaging service that she helped the professor to cultivate relationships with contacts in Russia. The former assistant, who did not want to be named, said Mifsud’s interest in Russia was never a secret and that she helped introduce him to contacts at the Russia International Affairs Council – a think tank funded by the Russian government – and the “most top-ranked unis.”
The former assistant said she believed Mifsud attended an annual gathering at the Valdai Club every year since 2014, an event which she said was usually frequented by Putin. Mifsud bragged that he had met with Putin during one of these events, she claimed. The assistant supposed that this meeting took place in 2016.
CNN was able to verify that the assistant worked for Mifsud but cannot independently verify her claims.
Mifsud is not accused of wrongdoing in the US legal papers. The FBI says his role was “to introduce Papadopoulos to Russian contacts.”