United States Attorney John Durham has interviewed the former top FBI lawyer during the Russia investigation.
James Baker, who recently was hired by Twitter, met with Durham's team in recent weeks and was quickly brought back for follow-up questions, a source told CNN.
The report noted that witnesses who have spoken with Durham are unable to figure out who is a major target for prosecution in his criminal inquiry into Russia investigation.
Baker, who became general counsel in 2014 and resigned from the FBI in 2018, defended the Russia investigation and the FBI’s handling of British ex-spy Christopher Steele's anti-Trump dossier. He was involved in the sign-off process of at least the first Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant application that targeted former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Attorney General William Barr, who appointed Durham to review the Russia investigation's origins, has said he expects developments from the inquiry by the end of the summer.
Twitter hired Baker as its new deputy general counsel in June, weeks after the technology giant stirred controversy by slapping fact-checking labels on some of President Trump's tweets. Trump signed an executive order on May 28 aimed at weakening the legal protections of social media companies.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller found Twitter was one of the social media platforms used by a Kremlin-linked troll farm to interfere in the 2016 election. His inquiry, which ended last year, also did not establish any criminal conspiracy between Russia and anyone in Trump’s orbit.
According to the CNN report, questions that have been posed to witnesses suggest Durham is investigating whether former CIA director and former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, James Clapper, “cooked the intelligence” to undermine Trump. Neither Brennan nor Clapper have spoken with Durham's team, but a spokesman for Brennan said he wants to access his CIA records for the interviews. Trump previously blocked him from accessing his personal CIA notes in the context of writing his upcoming memoir.
Brennan has acknowledged that he is in the "crosshairs" of Durham. Last year, the New York Times reported that Durham asked for Brennan’s electronic communications, phone records, and other documents from the CIA. Durham is looking into whether Brennan took politicized actions to pressure the rest of the intelligence community to match his conclusions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal, and Barr confirmed Durham is scrutinizing the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.
Also revealed in the report published Thursday was that Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general under President George W. Bush, admitted to the outlet that in early 2019 he discussed with Barr the possibility of leading the so-called "investigation of the investigators" which Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, was ultimately picked to run.
Baker was a subject in the report about the FBI's Russia investigation released in December by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to FISA warrants against Page in 2016 and 2017 and for the bureau's reliance on Steele’s Democrat-funded and discredited dossier.
Horowitz noted in his report that “certain former FBI employees who agreed to interviews, including [FBI Director James] Comey and Baker, chose not to request that their security clearances be reinstated for their OIG interviews.” That meant that the inspector general was “unable to provide classified information or documents to them during their interviews to develop their testimony, or to assist their recollections of relevant events.” Baker worked directly under Deputy Director Andrew McCabe from July 2016 through May 2017 during the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Baker “told us that he also remembered being satisfied at the time that there was probable cause articulated in the draft application to believe that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power," Horowitz wrote in his report. The watchdog noted that it was "difficult for him to fully explain to us the basis for his assessment without reviewing the entire application again, but that he recalled Page's continuing relationships with Russian intelligence officers, even after the FBI made Page aware that they were Russian intelligence officers, being 'key' facts in his mind.”
“Baker said that in this case, he asked to read the application because he recognized its sensitivities, including that the target had been associated with a presidential campaign and that the whole case was about Russian efforts to influence the presidential election and whether those efforts included any interactions with the Trump campaign,” Horowitz wrote. “He said that he expected that the FBI would be called upon after-the-fact to justify its actions, and he wanted to ensure that his significant FISA experience was 'brought to bear' on the application.”
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was the subject of a referral for possible prosecution after the Justice Department inspector general found he altered a document in a filing for the final FISA renewal application. Clinesmith, 38, is expected to plead guilty for making a false statement, according to reports Friday.
Footnotes from Horowitz’s report, which were disclosed to the public this year, showed that Steele's dossier might have been compromised by Russian disinformation, and FBI investigators received information in 2017 “indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting." Page has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime.
Recently declassified FBI interview notes show Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, undercut the credibility of Steele’s dossier in early 2017, and newly public FBI talking points from early 2018 show the bureau may have misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about the credibility of Steele’s allegations of a Trump-Russia connection.
During an interview with Yahoo News, Baker said the FBI took the dossier "seriously,” but "didn’t necessarily take it literally” and did not treat it as “literally true in every respect.”
A Washington Post report in late 2017 said Baker was being reassigned away from the general counsel role as one of Christopher Wray's first moves as director of the bureau. He was under criminal investigation for allegations that he leaked unauthorized information to the media.
Baker resigned in May 2018 and joined Lawfare, a national security blog affiliated with the Brookings Institution whose editor-in-chief is Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey. He later joined the R Street Institute and then CNN as a legal analyst, but he no longer works there.