Former FBI lawyer: Plot to record, remove Trump not a joke

By John Solomon
Opinion Contributor 

Don’t tell former FBI general counsel James Baker that those now-infamous discussions about secretly recording President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE and using the tapes to remove him from office were a joke.

He apparently doesn’t believe it. And he held quite the vantage point — he was on the inside of the bureau’s leadership in May 2017, when the discussions occurred.

Baker told Congress last week that his boss — then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeMcCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' McCabe book: Trump pushed back on officials using Putin claim that North Korea couldn't fire long-range missiles Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview MORE — was dead serious about the idea of surreptitiously recording the 45th president and using the evidence to make the case that Trump should be removed from office, according to my sources.

Baker told lawmakers he wasn’t in the meeting McCabe had with Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinGraham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears MORE in which the subject came up. But he did have firsthand conversations with McCabe and the FBI lawyer assigned to McCabe, Lisa Page, about the issue.

“As far as Baker was concerned, this was a real plan being discussed,” said a source directly familiar with the congressional investigation. “It was no laughing matter for the FBI.”

Word of Baker’s testimony surfaced just days before Rosenstein was set to be interviewed in private on Thursday by House Judiciary Committee lawmakers.

Since The New York Times first reported the allegations, Rosenstein, the No. 2 Department of Justice (DOJ) official, has tried to downplay his role in them. His office has suggested that he thought the discussions were a joke, that Rosenstein never gave an order to carry out such a plot, and that he does not believe Trump should be removed from office.

But making those statements through a spokesperson is a bit different than having Rosenstein himself face Congress and answer the questions under penalty of felony if lawmakers think he is lying.

Baker’s account to lawmakers this month clearly complicates an already complicated picture for Rosenstein before Congress, assuming he shows up for Thursday’s interview.

But even more so, Baker’s story lays bare an extraordinary conversation in which at least some senior FBI officials thought it within their purview to try to capture the president on tape and then go to the president’s own Cabinet secretaries, hoping to persuade the senior leaders of the administration to remove the president from power.

Even more extraordinary is the timing of such discussions: They occurred, according to Baker’s account, in the window around the firing of FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyMcCabe book: Trump pushed back on officials using Putin claim that North Korea couldn't fire long-range missiles Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE. Could it be that the leaders of a wounded, stunned FBI were seeking retribution for their boss’s firing with a secret recording operation?

I doubt this is the power that Congress intended to be exercised when it created the FBI a century ago, or the circumstances in which the authors of the 25th Amendment imagined a president’s removal could be engineered.

This wasn’t a president who was incapacitated at the time. He was fully exercising his powers — but in a way the FBI leadership did not like.

And that makes the FBI’s involvement in the tape-record-then-dump-Trump conversations overtly political — even if Rosenstein believed the whole idea was farcical.

Keep in mind, this is the same FBI that, a few months earlier during the 2016 election, had its top counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok talking to Page — his lover and the top lawyer to McCabe — about using their official powers to “stop” Trump in the election and having an “insurance policy” against the GOP nominee. That insurance policy increasingly looks like an unverified dossier created by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele — a Trump hater himself — that was bought and paid for by the Democratic Party and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE’s presidential campaign through their mutual law firm.

“You walk away from the Baker interview with little doubt that the FBI leadership in that 2016-17 time frame saw itself as far more than a neutral investigative agency but actually as a force to stop Trump’s election before it happened and then maybe reversing it after the election was over,” said a source directly familiar with the congressional investigation.

Baker provided some other valuable insights in his congressional interview. As I reported last week, he revealed that he accepted information in the Russia investigation from a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee.

And my sources also confirm that Baker admitted he received a version of the Steele dossier from left-leaning reporter David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, and then forwarded it to Strzok’s team. Corn says that occurred in November 2016, right after the election.

That transaction is significant for two reasons. First, at the time, Steele had just been fired from the FBI probe for leaking to the media and he wasn’t supposed to be further assisting the probe. So Corn essentially acted as a back door to allow information to continue to flow.

Secondly, the FBI was using the news media as an investigative source outside the normal chain of evidence.

Whatever you think of Rosenstein or the Russia probe, the statements Baker made to Congress have implications for all Americans.

The FBI was created to investigate crimes and stop foreign intelligence and terrorism threats. It was never designed to be a broker in the political process of elections or the execution of the 25th Amendment.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.