Attorney General William P. Barr has taken an interest in a mysterious European professor whose conversation with an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign helped launch the FBI investigation into possible coordination with Russia — and who has since become the focal point of an unproven conservative theory that the entire inquiry was a setup, people familiar with the matter said.
Those involved in the FBI investigation said they are mystified by the attorney general’s activities and interest in the professor, Joseph Mifsud, and they suspect that Barr might be using Justice Department resources to validate conjecture that Mifsud was deployed against a Trump adviser by Western intelligence to manufacture a basis to investigate the campaign.
“It just seems like they’re doing everything they can to delegitimize the origins of that investigation,” said one person involved the Russia probe, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically sensitive matter that is still being reviewed. “I just don’t think there’s any real basis to disparage it.”
But Barr’s inquiry has heartened Trump and his conservative allies. Trump, who at times has inquired about the origins of the Russia investigation and the professor in particular, has bragged that Barr will get to the bottom of the case and is doing a good job as the country’s top law enforcement official, a White House official said.
Barr’s defenders assert that he is exploring what he views as possible problems.
“He’s not a conspiracy theorist. He’s a realist,” said George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general and longtime friend of Barr’s. “And I’m confident that if he has a concern that justifies his personal involvement, it’s based on fact, not conjecture.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Unproven or vague allegations about impropriety in the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe have long been passed between Trump, his conservative allies on Capitol Hill and the conservative media ecosystem — with the country’s top law enforcement official and conservative lawmakers sometimes helping to fuel them.