In a closed-door testimony, Conte confirmed the US Attorney General's secret meetings with Italian intelligence officers. The Italian PM insists the meetings were "fully legal and correct."
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed on Wednesday that US Attorney General William Barr held two secret meetings with Italian intelligence officers in Rome to seek information relating to the Russia probe over the summer.
Conte denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the meetings had been completely legitimate and that he had on no occasion spoken to US President Donald Trump about the investigation.
"The meetings were fully legal, correct and didn't remotely harm our national interests," Conte said at a news conference after providing closed-door testimony to Italy's parliamentary intelligence committee.
The meetings, which were held in August and September, related to the Trump administration's interest in information about the origins of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 American election.
Conte told reporters that the meetings, attended by Italy's spy chief Gennaro Vecchione and senior officials, did not bear fruit — as Italy had no information on the investigation.
Italian media reports have been accusing Conte of violating protocol by permitting the meetings.
Conte said Barr requested the meetings via the usual diplomatic channels for "a preliminary exchange of information with our intelligence aimed at verifying activities of American agents. This must be clear."
Barr sought information on the conduct of US intelligence officers based in Italy in 2016, according to Conte. The meetings also involved discussions of Joseph Mifsud, a university professor from Malta who was a key figure in the triggering events of the Russia probe and who was teaching in Rome at the time but has since disappeared.
US intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election, using hacking and propaganda to bolster Trump's candidacy and to disparage his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump, who is running for reelection next year, has called the Russia investigation "a witch hunt.”
mmc/stb (AP, Reuters)