- Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
- James Baker, the former general counsel at the FBI, said Friday that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in his obstruction-of-justice case are “alarming” and “troubling, to say the least.”
- “Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of illegality, it sure looks like a pattern of corruption,” Baker said.
- He also defended the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation and emphasized that every action the bureau took was done by the book.
- Baker was one of three senior FBI officials with whom James Comey discussed his conversations with President Donald Trump leading up to his ouster. All three have since resigned or been fired.
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The former general counsel for the FBI said Friday that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in his obstruction case against President Donald Trump are “alarming” and show a “pattern of corruption.”
James Baker served as the bureau’s top lawyer until his resignation in May 2018.
Speaking at an event for the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, Baker said Volume II of Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation – which focused on obstruction of justice – is “troubling, to say the least.”
“Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of illegality, it sure looks like a pattern of corruption,” he added.
Baker is one of several top FBI and Justice Department officials connected to the Russia probe, which examined whether the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, and whether the president later sought to obstruct justice after then FBI director James Comey confirmed its existence in 2017.
Mueller’s team declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a decades-old Office of Legal Counsel decision that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
But prosecutors laid out an extensive roadmap of evidence against Trump, including 11 potential instances of obstruction, and indicated it was up to Congress to further investigate the matter. They also noted in the report that a president can be criminally prosecuted once he leaves office.
On Friday, Baker defended the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation. He said he read the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page before it was submitted to a FISA court for approval. Baker said he was confident it was “consistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”
On Thursday night, President Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that, “really, it’s a coup.”
The former FBI general counsel also criticized Trump and others who have characterized the investigation as an attempted “coup,” saying, “There was no attempted coup. Had anybody proposed such a thing … I would not have tolerated it whatsoever.”
He also spoke at length about how Trump’s attacks against him and other FBI officials – in which the president accused them of lying and committing treason – rattled him.
Baker said it was an “unnerving” and “out of body experience,” adding that he had trouble finding employment after leaving the FBI because people told him he was qualified and that they liked him, but that he was too controversial.
Before he resigned, Baker was reassigned from general counsel to another position within the bureau by incoming FBI director Christopher Wray in December 2017. The move was not unexpected – when Wray took over as director following Comey’s ouster, it was widely understood that he would bring in his own team.
But the timing of Baker’s reassignment raised questions, given his relationship with Comey, whose abrupt firing was the catalyst for Mueller’s obstruction case.
The White House initially said Comey was fired because of the way he handled the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. But Trump later admitted on national television that he fired Comey because of “this Russia thing.”
The president also bragged to two top Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting that he faced “great pressure” because of the Russia probe and that it was “taken off” because of Comey’s dismissal.
After he was fired, Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had several conversations with Trump leading up to his ouster that he believed were improper and blurred the line between the White House and the FBI.
Comey told the committee Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge – which Comey declined to give – and that the president asked for the FBI to “let go” of its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey did not do so and was fired three months later.
Comey wrote extensive memos of his conversations with Trump and discussed them with three other officials at the FBI: Baker, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and James Rybicki, who was Comey’s chief of staff at the time.
All three men have since resigned or been fired.
Baker is now the subject of a leak investigation that his lawyer said is “still active” at the Justice Department. The inspector general is also investigating the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation. Baker said Friday that while it was possible the IG would find an issue he didn’t know about, he was confident in his own judgments based on the information he had at the time.