FBI lawyer’s unusual interventions in Trump probe raise questions

FBI lawyer’s unusual interventions in Trump probe raise questions
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Ex-FBI General Counsel James Baker was both a conduit of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Poll: Nearly half of Clinton's former supporters back Biden Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE-tied evidence in the Russia case and a reviewer of the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant that targeted a Trump campaign adviser days before the 2016 election.

And, by his own admission, both roles Baker played in the case were aberrations.

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Baker told congressional investigators he considered himself a FISA expert but did not routinely review agents’ applications for the sensitive spy warrants. But he said he asked to see the evidence supporting the warrant targeting Trump adviser Carter Page.

“I knew it was sensitive,” Baker told lawmakers last year in testimony that has not yet been publicly released. His motive, he said, was that “I wanted to make sure that we were filing something that would adhere to the law.”

“I was aware, when the FBI first started to focus on Carter Page, I was aware of that because it was part of the broader investigation that we were conducting,” he explained. “… I don’t want to see it at the end, like, when it is about to go to the director of certification because then it is hard to make changes then.”

“My recollection is that I read the factual part of the initiation of the Carter Page FISA,” he said. “So the section that I was focused on is what is the probable cause.”

Normally the evidentiary submission for a FISA warrant goes through a special process known as a Woods Procedures review to make sure it is verified, accurate and up to the standards expected by the FISA court judges.

When asked whether his review was abnormal, Baker answered, “Yes.”

Okay, so the FBI’s chief lawyer jumping into an unusual role on a sensitive case might be intriguing for inside-the-beltway folks but not necessarily alarming, unless there is more.

And there is.

Both before and after he provided his independent legal review of the FISA, Baker took on another unusual role, of forwarding politically connected evidence to the investigative team, once from a Hillary Clinton lawyer and another time from a journalist.

Normally, evidence in any FBI case — and especially in counterintelligence cases — is handled by front-line agents.

But Baker acknowledged that sometime in September 2016 — a month before the FISA warrant — he took Trump- and Russia-related cyber evidence from Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and routed it to the Russia counterintelligence team.

Then, after the FISA warrant was issued, Baker trafficked a second piece of evidence to the investigators, this time a new version of Christopher Steele’s now-infamous dossier that he obtained in November from liberal reporter David Corn, an avowed Trump critic.

At the time Baker got the copy of the dossier, Steele already had been terminated by the FBI as a confidential human source in the Russia probe for violating bureau rules, lying about his contacts with the news media before the election.

So, at a time when the FBI was supposed to have severed its ties with Steele, Baker essentially functioned as a document courier. FBI memos I reviewed confirmed the version that Baker got from Corn was different from the one the FBI had from Steele before his termination.

Three acts. All, by Baker’s own admission, unusual and outside the normal protocols, and taken on by an ex-FBI official who also admitted he’s under criminal investigation for possible news leaks in an unrelated case.

The Russia case already has been rocked by revelations that the lead agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, engaged in anti-Trump texts while conducting the probe and suggested they would use their official powers to “stop” the Republican candidate from becoming president.

The FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeTrump accuses Hillary Clinton of 'destroying the lives' of his campaign staffers The Mueller report concludes it was not needed Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators MORE, also was fired for lying about news leaks that he allegedly approved. And Congress now has confirmed that exculpatory evidence was omitted from the FISA warrant requested from the court.

Now Baker’s dual hats — an evidentiary source, and an unusual legal reviewer — leaves Congress pondering what else may be out of order.

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.