Former Italian PM Renzi to sue former Trump aide over smear claims

FILE PHOTO: Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is pictured speaking during a session of the upper house of parliament in Rome, Italy August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

Former Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said on Friday he would sue George Papadopoulos, a one-time campaign aide for U.S. President Donald Trump, over allegations that Renzi had tried to undermine Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

In an interview published earlier on Friday, Papadopoulos told the Italian daily La Verita he believed Renzi had acted on the orders of former U.S. President Barack Obama to “strike a low blow” against Trump in the run-up to the 2016 vote.

Renzi denied the allegation in a post on Facebook, saying Papadopoulos’s accusation was “seriously damaging to my reputation.” He added: “See you in court.”

Papadopoulos, plucked out of obscurity to work as a foreign policy adviser for Trump’s presidential run, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to the FBI about contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials, in the first criminal charges alleging links between the campaign and Moscow.

U.S. intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with a scheme of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump’s candidacy and disparage his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Under his plea deal, Papadopoulos said the Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud, had told him in April 2016 that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, the Democratic candidate at the time for the presidency.

Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in Rome and he told La Verita that the CIA and FBI had used “people like Mifsud” to spy on him and to try to sabotage the Trump presidential campaign.

“I think it was impossible for such an operation to take place without the knowledge of the government of the day. Renzi was taking orders from someone and he was very happy to obey,” Papadopoulos was quoted as saying.

The case has returned to the fore following reports that U.S. Attorney General William Barr held secret meetings with Italian intelligence agencies in Rome as part of an investigation by Trump’s administration into the origins of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 American election.