Ex-Top FBI Lawyer Targeted By Trump Breaks Silence On Russia Probe

The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Headquarters, acros the street from the Deparment of Justice, in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Cliff Owen/FR170079 AP

The former FBI general counsel — who left the Bureau last year under attacks from President Trump’s allies, after being involved in the Russia investigation — said Friday that he worried the firestorm around the probe could deter the FBI from engaging in politically sensitive but necessary investigations in the future.

“[The government] is made up of people, people who have to make individual decisions. Sometimes they have to take risks, and be willing to stand up and to speak truth to power, and deal with the consequences,” said Jim Baker, in his first public remarks about the Russia probe and its blowback in since his May 2018 FBI departure.

“I worry about whether people will over-index on the consequences, the potential consequences, of taking action that needs to be taken to tell people who are in positions of power what the truth is,” he continued. “So, I worry about that substantially.”

Baker played important roles in both the early Russia investigation and the Hillary Clinton email probe. On Friday, he described that period of time at the FBI as “traumatic” and a “very, very hard experience.”

Before his participation in the Friday discussion at the Brookings Institution, the only view the public has had into his thinking about those investigations came from transcripts released by the House Judiciary Republicans in April from his closed-door interview with the committee last October.

He’s been targeted by Trump, with the President tweeting about Baker when he was moved out of the FBI’s general counsel role in December 2017 and when Baker left the Bureau itself the following May.

Baker said on Friday that Trump’s attacks on him were “terrible” and affected his career search when he left the FBI; potential employers told him he was “too controversial” for them to hire. He is now at the R Street Institute and writing for the Brookings’ website Lawfare.

Baker is also reportedly the subject of a criminal leak investigation. On Friday, Baker said that there was an open “investigation with respect to matters in which I was involved” and said that he had cooperated with investigators for “many hours” and “many days.” But, besides updates that the investigation was ongoing, Baker said, he hadn’t heard from the investigative team in about a year and a half.

“I’m confident that I did nothing wrong and that I did nothing illegal and that once this is concluded, the Department will come to the same assessment,” he said.

During his talk at the Brookings Institution, Baker defended the Russia probe actions he oversaw as the FBI’s top legal advisor and said he had “no doubt” that it had proper predication.

He pushed back on the conspiracy theories surrounding the probe by asserting that it was triggered by the revelation that Trump advisor George Papadopolous had been told the Russians had dirt on Clinton. Baker said he was “comfortable” that the application for the surveillance warrant obtained for ex-campaign advisor Carter Page was constitutionally and legally sound.

Baker also said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report “validated” the actions the FBI took at the beginning of the probe, given that Mueller’s team spent 22 months and deployed “a whole range of investigative tools” to “figure out what the answer was to the question that we asked.”

The Justice Department Inspector General is currently probing the warrant application process, and Attorney General Bill Barr has also said he is personally reviewing how the Russia investigation was launched.

“I’m eager to find out what both the attorney general and the inspector general know,” Baker said. However, he said he didn’t “understand” what Barr was insinuating when he seemed to question the origin of the Russia probe in recent congressional testimony.

“I honestly don’t know what he’s referring to,” Baker said. “If he has other information available to him that somehow hasn’t been made public yet, I’m eager to hear it.”

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