James Baker, the former general counsel at the FBI, provided a stunning testimony to congressional investigators in October last year.
The career lawyer, who left the FBI in May 2018, played a significant role in the investigation of then-candidate Donald Trump. Transcripts of Baker’s two testimonies before Congress were reviewed by The Epoch Times for this article.
Perhaps the most telling statement in Baker’s testimony, was his admission of how unusual the FBI’s actions were.
During testimony, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who along with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had been questioning Baker, paused to outline his concerns, telling Baker, “everything about this investigation seems to have been done in an abnormal way, the way that you have gotten the information, the way that Peter Strzok got information, the way that Bruce Ohr was used, the way that Perkins Coie actually came in and gave you information.”
Meadows noted that, “with all this stuff that we are talking about…you ought to look at this with a jaundiced eye, would you agree?”
Baker responded: “I had a jaundiced eye about everything, yes. I had skepticism about all this stuff. I was concerned about all of this. This whole situation was horrible, and it was novel and we were trying to figure out what to do, and it was highly unusual.”
Baker closed his statement by noting, “I am not good enough to sort out the political implications of a lot of things.”
But for a man who claimed to not be in tune with political considerations, Baker had significant involvement in the FBI’s investigation of President Trump. Baker repeatedly met with Michael Sussmann, a partner at Perkins Coie, who shared with him information that detailed alleged communications between servers in Trump Tower and servers located in Russia at Alfa Bank—an allegation that eventually was debunked. Baker also acknowledged that he had a “personal relationship” with Sussmann, as they had previously “both worked in the criminal division together at the Department of Justice.”
Baker was also involved in the Carter Page FISA application process and read part of the initial application. And, as general counsel, Baker advised senior FBI leaders on the legal aspects of key investigations and served as the liaison with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Baker is the subject of a criminal leak investigation being conducted by the DOJ. According to Baker’s testimony, the leak investigation remained active as of October 2018 and a Jan. 15 letter sent by Reps. Jordan and Meadows to U.S. Attorney John Durham, requesting a briefing, strongly suggests the DOJ investigation into Baker remains active.
Baker’s Relationship With David Corn
Early in Baker’s testimony, he was asked about his relationship with Mother Jones reporter David Corn. Baker said that Corn was a “longtime friend,” noting that they met “Years and years and years ago … Our kids carpooled together. We carpooled with them when our kids were little.” According to Baker, he and Corn would speak every few months or so—including during the months preceding the 2016 election.
Rep. Jordan: [How] many times did you talk with David Corn in the weeks and months prior to election day?
Mr. Baker: I don’t remember.
Rep. Jordan: Is it fair to say you did?
Mr. Baker: Yes, I did, but I just don’t remember how many.
But as Baker’s testimony progressed, it quickly became apparent the two were engaged in more than just conversations about their children.
Baker and Corn had multiple conversations regarding “FBI matters”—which Baker would later clarify to mean the Steele dossier—prior to the 2016 presidential election:
Rep. Jordan: Did you talk to Mr. Corn prior to the election about anything, anything related to FBI matters? Not — so we’re not going to ask about the Steele dossier. Anything about FBI business, FBI matters?
Mr. Baker: Yes.
Rep. Jordan: Yes. And do you know — can you give me some dates or the number of times that you talked to Mr. Corn about FBI matters leading up to the 2016 Presidential election?
Baker answered Jordan by saying, “I don’t remember, congressman.” He then asked to consult with his counsel. When Baker resumed his testimony, he told lawmakers that Corn approached him, wanting to provide him with “parts” of Steele’s dossier:
Mr. Baker: If I could just focus. So what I remember most clearly is that at some point in time David had part of what is now referred to as the Steele dossier and he talked to me about that and wanted to provide that to the FBI.
And so, even though he was my friend, I was also an FBI official. He knew that. And so he wanted to somehow get that into the hands of the FBI because —
Rep. Jordan: David Corn wanted to give the FBI parts of the dossier?
Mr. Baker: That’s correct. That’s what he told me.
The “parts” comment makes more sense when you realize the Steele dossier is really a collection of individual memos written by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele from June 20, 2016, to Dec. 13, 2016.
There are 17 known memos in the Steele dossier. Three of these memos were written in September and four were written in October. One memo is undated and a final memo was created on Dec. 13. One memo is also dated—perhaps erroneously, perhaps not—as July 26, 2015.
In September 2016, the FBI had suddenly reached out to Steele, asking him for all the information in his possession. The team working on the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into the Trump campaign received documents and a briefing from Steele in mid-September, reportedly in Rome, where his FBI handler, agent Michael Gaeta, was also present.
During the testimony of former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who at the time of the investigation was a special counsel to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, she appeared to corroborate this account, noting that the team received the “reports that are known as the dossier from an FBI agent who is Christopher Steele’s handler in September of 2016.”
She would later clarify the timing, noting “we received the reporting from Steele in mid-September.” A text sent to her by FBI agent Peter Strzok on Oct. 12, 2016, may provide the actual date: “[We] got the reporting on Sept 19. Looks like [redacted] got it early August.”
Steele’s dossier was continuously evolving and growing in the latter portion of 2016 as new memos were written. And, as noted, four additional memos were written by Steele in October, following the FBI’s meeting with him in September. Corn may have been provided with those newer Steele memos that Baker and the FBI didn’t yet possess.
Notably, Corn had talked to Steele in late October 2016, resulting in his Oct. 31, 2016, article, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.” In that article, Corn noted that “in recent months,” Steele had “provided the bureau with memos based on his recent interactions with Russian sources.”
A bit later in his article, Corn stated that he had “reviewed that report and other memos this former spy wrote.”
Corn has publicly acknowledged that he sent Baker a copy of the memos a week after he published his October 2016 article. Corn later characterized his involvement with Baker as limited to standard reporting activities in a Jan. 17 article he penned in response to the Jan. 15 letter sent by Reps. Meadows and Jordan:
“I did send a copy of the Steele memos to Baker a week after I had posted the article on them. (My story had reported that Steele, whom I had not identified by name, had already provided copies to the bureau.) I asked if anyone in the bureau could talk to me about the documents. That’s what reporters do. No one at the FBI would. End of story.”
Corn also stated his belief that he wasn’t part of the Baker leak investigation and noted, “I have not been contacted by Durham or anyone working on his probe.”
Baker, in his testimony, suggests that the “FBI matters” he and Corn had conversations about prior to the Nov. 8, 2016, elections were regarding the dossier.
Rep. Jordan: [So] you definitely had conversations with David Corn prior to the elections about the dossier?
Mr. Baker: I believe that’s correct. I don’t remember specifically the date of these conversations, but I know that David was anxious to get this into the hands of FBI. And being the person at the FBI that he knew the best, he wanted to give it to me.
Additional Parts of Steele Dossier
It appears that what Corn was providing to Baker included memos from Steele that weren’t in the FBI’s possession:
Rep. Jordan: So you knew about the dossier prior to the election and you had reviewed it prior to the election. And also prior to the election Mr. Corn had a copy of the dossier and was talking to you about giving that to you so the FBI would have it. Is that all right? I mean all accurate.
Mr. Baker: My recollection is that he had part of the dossier, that we had other parts already, and that we got still other parts from other people, and that — and nevertheless some of the parts that David Corn gave us were parts that we did not have from another source.
Baker testified that after Corn provided his memos from the Steele dossier to him, those new memos were then provided to the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
“He gave it to me, and then I immediately gave it to — I think it was Bill Priestap, who was the head of our Counterintelligence Division,” Baker said. Priestap was officially in charge of the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
Baker testified that he never read Corn’s documents himself.
Corn, however, has said that the reason his documents differed was because they did not contain later memos already in the FBI’s possession:
“Another dumb distraction from the Trump cult. I gave a copy of the memos to the FBI AFTER the election & AFTER Steele gave them to the FBI to see if the FBI would authenticate them & confirm its contacts w/ Steele. And my set was different only bc it didn’t include later memos.” Corn wrote on Twitter on July 11, 2018.
Corn’s tweet was responding to questions regarding an email sent by FBI Agent Strzok to FBI executives following the dossier’s publication by BuzzFeed in January 2017. Strzok’s email was highlighting discrepancies in the FBI’s various versions of the dossier—including the one provided by Corn:
“Our internal system is blocking the site,” Strzok wrote of the document posted on BuzzFeed. “I have the PDF via iPhone but it’s 25.6MB. Comparing now. The set is only identical to what McCain had. (it has differences from what was given to us by Corn and Simpson.)”
The FBI had met with Steele on Sept. 19, 2016, and were provided with all his memos to date. Following that meeting, Steele wrote four additional memos in October. Steele then met with Corn in late October, culminating in Corn’s Oct. 31 article—and the subsequent transfer of additional memos to Baker and the FBI in early November.
Given the timing, it seems more likely that the memos that Corn provided to the FBI were those that Steele wrote in October and weren’t yet in the FBI’s possession.
There is only one additional memo written by Steele since October, which was on Dec. 13, 2016. It’s possible this final memo accounts for the differences noted by Strzok, but the words “it has differences from what was given to us” seem to imply more significant differences than the inclusion of the final memo.
Another item of note is that Corn specified in his July tweet that he gave his copy of the memos to the FBI after the election. But in his later article from January of this year, Corn altered his description of timing ever so slightly:
“I did send a copy of the Steele memos to Baker a week after I had posted the article on them.”
Corn’s article was published on Oct. 31, 2016. A week after publication would indicate that Corn provided his copy of the dossier to Baker on Nov. 7—one day before the election.
Source of Corn’s Documents?
Baker said in his testimony he believed that Corn had received his copies of the Steele memos from Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS:
Mr. Baker: [I] think I assumed at the time or knew, he may have told me, that he got it from Simpson or somebody acting on Simpson’s behalf.
In his Jan. 17 article, Corn attacked Meadows and Jordan for engaging in “an unfounded crusade” against Baker:
“Jordan, Meadows, York, and the inhabitants of Planet Fox refuse to recognize that the scandal at hand is about Trump and Russia. Instead, they conjure up alternative realities, desperately prop up competing controversies, and cavalierly toss about false claims to protect Trump and his crew and to prevent a full accounting of an unprecedented attack on American democracy. In this episode, Baker has been a victim of their fact-free hit-and-run skullduggery. But more important, the American public is also a victim, as this crowd casts about conspiratorial diversions to hide the truth that they—and Trump—cannot handle.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller, however, has now concluded his investigation and determined there is no evidence of such collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Meanwhile, many questions remain as to the origins of the FBI’s investigation, as well as the way the Steele dossier was spread to the FBI through different channels.
David Corn, along with Michael Isikoff, is the author of the book, “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.” The two men, who had both promoted allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, were interviewed on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes on March 25, after Mueller had officially determined there was no collusion.
In the interview, Corn continued to push allegations against Trump, noting that, “there were certainly acts of betrayal, I think, on the part of the Trump campaign but those might not have been criminal.”
Corn referenced several events, including the Trump Tower meeting, Paul Manafort’s meeting with his employee Konstantin Kilimnik, and the Trump Tower project in Moscow, telling Hayes, “all those things add up to, I think, the biggest scandal in American political history without there having to be any direct coordination.”
Isikoff remained more measured in his responses and countered Corn, by noting, “I agree with everything David said, except that the dossier did set expectations and it did shape what people were looking for, what they thought might have happened. It was endorsed multiple times on this network—people saying it’s more and more proving to be true. And it wasn’t.”
Isikoff concluded by saying, “one of the reasons people were so surprised by the Mueller finding is that it undercuts almost everything that was in the dossier, which postulated a well-developed conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign.”
This article is part of my ongoing series at The Epoch Times.