Share story

ROME — The U.S. ambassador to Italy is at the center of a political firestorm for warning that the defeat of an upcoming Italian referendum on constitutional changes would hurt American investment in Italy.

The vote has become a make-or-break judgment on the reform agenda of Premier Matteo Renzi, who has suggested he would resign if the referendum fails.

Lawmakers backing a “no” vote sharply criticized Ambassador John Phillips’ comments Tuesday as interference in Italy’s internal affairs. Some called for his removal.

The Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, stepped into the fray Wednesday to insist on the sovereignty of Italian voters.

Phillips made the remarks at a panel discussion at the Center for American Studies. The U.S. Embassy said his comments were in line with U.S. support of Renzi’s reforms.