James Baker, formerly the top lawyer at the FBI, said politics did not figure in the Bureau’s decision to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The probe started before the Bureau received the dossier of Michael Steele, former British intelligence agent, Baker said in a live video interview on Friday.
Baker, under Bureau investigation for possible leaks, reiterated the FBI’s claim that the investigation was appropriate.
Baker said the investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began with a tip that was impossible to ignore. In summer 2016, he said, Australian officials relayed that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, had boasted of having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, in the form of “thousands of emails.” Baker said that while the bureau is constantly investigating Russian activities in the United States, it had not — at least to his knowledge — been
“That was the nugget of information that got everything going,” he said, adding later, “It would have been a dereliction of our duty not to investigate this information.”
This is credible. Such a tip about any candidate would have been investigated.
Baker insisted the initial investigation was “not predicated” in any way on the controversial dossier — a collection of intelligence reports from a former British agent that the Clinton campaign hired through an opposition research firm to investigate Trump.
In any case, the Steele dossier was only one piece of evidence used to justify an investigation that has resulted in one conviction and six guilty pleas, with charges pending against 25 Russians, and two Americans. The Steele dossier did not figure in most of these cases.
Baker has been widely quoted in conservative media as saying his review of a FISA warrrant based on the Steele dossier was “unusual.” The quote came from closed-door testimony released by House Republicans in January.
“So that is why you took the abnormal or unusual step in this particular situation because it was sensitive?” a Republican asked Baker.
“Yes,” he replied, adding, “I wanted to make sure that we were filing something that would adhere to the law and stand up over time.”
And the FISA application did stand up. It was approved by four judges, all of them appointed by Republican presidents.