Former Top FBI Lawyer James Baker Investigated for Leaking to Media

January 16, 2019 Updated: January 16, 2019

Former top FBI lawyer James Baker was under criminal investigation for leaking to media, Republican lawmakers revealed. The investigation was still active as recently as Oct. 3, when he was interviewed by Congress.

During the unclassified, closed-door interview, Baker’s lawyer, Daniel Levin, instructed him to not talk about his contacts with journalists.

“I’m sorry, I’m going to cut—not let him answer these questions right now. You may or may not know, he’s been the subject of a leak investigation which is still—a criminal leak investigation that’s still active at the Justice Department. So I am cutting off … any discussion about conversations with reporters,” Levin said, according to excerpts from a transcript of the interview released in a letter (pdf) by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

They addressed the Jan. 15 letter to John Durham, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, who, according to Levin, handles the investigation of Baker.

“As we continue our oversight and investigative work, we felt it prudent to write to you seeking an update,” the lawmakers wrote. “Without being apprised of the contours of your leak investigation and Baker’s role, we run the risk of inadvertently interfering with your prosecutorial plans.”

The letter refers to the investigation as “ongoing.” Durham’s office declined to comment.

FISA Abuse Probe

The Congressional probe, led by Republicans on the House judiciary and oversight committees, released its findings on Dec. 28, shortly before Democrats took control of the House. It concluded that the Justice Department (DOJ) under President Barack Obama treated candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump differently in 2016 during investigations in the leadup to the presidential election and in 2017 after Trump won.

The FBI investigated Clinton for her use of an unauthorized private email server and her mishandling of classified information while serving as state secretary. But that investigation “was over before it began,” the lawmakers concluded, as then-FBI Director James Comey “wrote a statement exonerating Secretary Clinton [in 2016] months before his public announcement doing so.”

On the other hand, the DOJ potentially abused foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) powers to target Trump presidential campaign associate Carter Page. In its FISA warrant application, the FBI heavily relied on the increasingly discredited Steele dossier, a collection of unsubstantiated claims about Trump-Russia ties put together by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was paid to do so by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

As the FBI general counsel, Baker would have been involved in the FISA application and its renewals. Baker was an authority on FISA because he used to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, which was responsible for preparing and filing FISA applications.

Leaks on Investigation of Leaks

The news that Baker was under investigation first emerged in July 2017, when “multiple government officials close to the probe” told Circa that Baker faced “criminal investigation for allegedly leaking classified national security information to the media.”

Cracking down on leakers has been one of the priorities of President Trump.

In December 2017, Baker was being “reassigned” by incoming FBI Director Christopher Wray, The Washington Post reported, using unnamed sources. “Baker had been caught up in a strange interagency dispute that led to a leak probe and attracted the attention of senior lawmakers, but people familiar with the matter said the probe had recently ended with a decision not to charge anyone,” the paper wrote.

Yet, as the letter of Jordan and Meadows reveals, the investigation was still active more than nine months later.

The lawmakers were apparently interested in Baker’s contacts with the media and found out that Baker was in touch with Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who was the first to report the existence of the so-called Steele dossier on Oct. 31, 2016.

“Last time we talked about Mr. Corn pretty in-depth,” Jordan is quoted in the transcript as saying, apparently referring to a previous interview with Baker.

The transcript suggests Corn provided certain information to Baker.

“We talked about him bringing some information in,” Levin said, also referring to some previous conversation.

After the interview, Meadows hinted at its significance, saying that “some of the things that were shared were explosive in nature,” Fox News reported. “This witness confirmed that things were done in an abnormal fashion. That’s extremely troubling.”

Republican lawmakers have asked for this and other interviews to be released by the FBI and the DOJ, which hasn’t happened yet. The Epoch Times recently reported in detail on several of the transcripts obtained or viewed.

Baker resigned from the FBI sometime before May 4, The New York Times reported.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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