ROME — The “ancestral homeland” in Italy’s Abruzzo region that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was looking forward to visiting on Thursday barely had enough notice to organize a welcoming ceremony.

“It all happened so fast,” said Guido Angelilli, the mayor of Pacentro, adding, “They asked us to keep a low profile.”

At least the mayor could acknowledge the visit was happening at all, a small consolation in these times of high-flying intrigue.

As Washington seethes amid accusations of quid pro quos, conspiracy theories and abuses of power, Italy, with its brilliant early autumn light and amenable political leaders, has become a recent destination for two central officials in the Trump administration who are in the thick of the impeachment inquiry.

Their comings and goings have provoked some consternation, and more than a little speculation, in the Italian media. The Italian government has so far refused to say a word about a trip to the capital last week by Attorney General William P. Barr to meet with Italian intelligence officers as part of President Trump’s efforts to discredit the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 United States election.

CreditU.S. State Department, via EPA

On Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo confirmed in a news conference in Rome that “I was on the phone call” between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. But he also said “I am looking forward to meeting all my cousins” during his visit to Pacentro on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo’s trip to Italy, which includes a meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday, has been on his official calendar for weeks, and it has focused on tariffs, Libya and Iran sanctions.

But Mr. Pompeo couldn’t escape the impeachment inquiry consuming Washington as he dashed off an angry letter to House Democrats who had issued subpoenas on an expedited timetable to State Department officials involved with Ukraine. (“That’s unacceptable,” he said Wednesday.)

The visit, however, could also serve as a welcome getaway from the impeachment inquiry, at least for a day.

Mr. Pompeo has carved out time to drive east to Pacentro, his great-grandfather’s hometown, where Mr. Angelilli said the Trump official is the second most famous export after Gaetano Ciccone, the paternal grandfather of Madonna.

Mr. Pompeo’s maternal side traces back to nearby Caramanico Terme, which in 2017 seized on his elevation to director of the C.I.A. to enlist his help in solving the great cold case of 1950.


CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

“Unknown thieves stole the ancient statue of Our Lady of the Assumption,” the then-mayor wrote to Mr. Pompeo, imploring his assistance. “We hope you will not find our request inappropriate or strange.”

An altogether different, and much more recent, Italian mystery has drawn the intense interest of the Trump administration.

In his efforts to discredit the Russia report of the former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Mr. Trump sent Mr. Barr in search of a little-known, long-missing, Maltese professor who has figured prominently in unsubstantiated theories about how the Russia investigation got started.

Joseph Mifsud, a former political science faculty member at Link Campus University, a school in Rome, is best known for telling a Trump campaign adviser that the Russians had “thousands” of emails belonging to Hillary Clinton. The tip, when relayed to Australia’s top diplomat in London, and eventually to the F.B.I., helped plant the seeds for Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

Mr. Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, many Fox News commentators and House Republicans have spread the theory that Mr. Mifsud is not a professor with links to Russia, as reported in the Mueller inquiry, but that he is an asset of Western intelligence, and possibly the C.I.A., planted by the Obama administration to trap the Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

“Mifsud was an Italian operative handled by the C.I.A.,” Mr. Papadopoulos wrote on Twitter on Sept. 27, the day Mr. Barr was in Italy. “Italy holds the keys to the kingdom. Right government, right time.”

Image, via Associated Press

The Italian prime minister is Giuseppe Conte, whom Mr. Trump has called “my friend Giuseppe.” In August, Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Conte in a Tweet, albeit one that misspelled his name, amid an Italian government crisis.

Asked whether Mr. Trump personally asked for Mr. Conte’s help on the Mifsud matter, Mr. Conte’s spokesman, Rocco Casalino, did not respond.

While the Italian government has gone officially silent on the issue, Mr. Conte seemed to be helping out, according to reports in the Italian news media.

Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that Mr. Conte, who oversees the country’s intelligence services, authorized Mr. Barr and John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, to receive full access to the upper echelon of Italy’s intelligence agencies during their visits to Rome. Mr. Durham is leading the Justice Dept. inquiry into the origins of the Mueller investigation.

The Attorney General pressed the agencies, according to the Corriere, on whether they had helped Mr. Mifsud vanish. The Daily Beast reported that Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham had holed up in the American embassy listening to a tape of a deposition Mr. Mifsud made when he applied for Italian police protection. Italian officials have refused to confirm the existence of such a tape.

Present and former officials in Italy’s intelligence services said they knew of no connections between the agency and Mr. Mifsud.


CreditRemo Casilli/Reuters

Mr. Mifsud hasn’t been seen since October 2017, though il Foglio, an Italian newspaper, discovered that he had been living in university housing until summer 2018. On Tuesday, they published a photo of him in Switzerland with a May 21, 2018, copy of Zürichsee-Zeitung, a Swiss newspaper, on a table in front of him for proof of life.

At Link University on Wednesday morning, the school’s president, Vincenzo Scotti, a former Italian interior and foreign affairs minister, shook his head at all the intrigue surrounding his school and Mr. Mifsud.

“He’s a chatterbox,” he said disparagingly of Mr. Mifsud, adding that the investigation by Mr. Barr and the Trump administration seemed to be grasping at straws. “Do they have no other arm with which to defend themselves?”

For Mr. Pompeo, Italy seemed to offer at least some relief from the pressures of the impeachment inquiry. Advisors said his meetings with the Italians were full of good will, and even the protesters came bearing gifts.

On Tuesday, as he met with the prime minister, a personality on a satirical program on Italian TV burst forth to present him with a chunk of Parmesan cheese to protest American tariffs.

“Excuse me, Mr. Pompeo,” she said to the secretary of state, who looked part bewildered, part appreciative. “An Italian present.”

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