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by Sharon Rondeau

(Apr. 15, 2019) — Toward the end of the first transcript of former FBI General Counsel James Baker’s closed-door testimony last summer, Baker admitted that a small group of FBI officials attempted to orchestrate the hiring of a special counsel in response to President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and discussed “investigations” it might open in addition to the Russia “collusion” probe.

According to Baker, who is under investigation for possibly leaking classified information to the media, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was involved in the discussions, as was reported prior to the release of the transcripts last week by House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA4).

Under questioning from counsel for the then-Democrat congressional minority by Susanne Sachsman Grooms beginning on page  138, Baker said that then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; his staff attorney, Lisa Page; he and several others perceived “a horrible atmosphere” after Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017.

“I am not sure that I can reduce it to one or two words,” Baker is reported to have responded.  “It was an, I guess, horrible atmosphere. It was shock, dismay, confusion, at least initially that night and then — and then a sense of resolve that came pretty quickly as well to continue the FBI’s mission.”  Baker added that “And as I was saying earlier to the Congressman, make sure that we were all adhering to our oaths to the Constitution and executing our responsibilities.”

When Grooms asked if the group suspected that Trump might have “obstructed the FBI’s investigation into the Russia matter?” Baker responded, “Yes.”

On Monday morning, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist reported that “Obstruction of Justice” constitutes the second part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump-Russia investigation, turned in to the Justice Department on March 22.  Hemingway, who appears to have seen the report, wrote:

While the Mueller probe was sold to the American public using the Trump-Russia Collusion Conspiracy Theory, it was always actually about obstruction. That was partly because FBI investigators knew at the time of the special counsel’s launch that — in the words of disgraced chief investigator Peter Strzok — “there’s no big there there.”

When Comey leaked his memos to spur the launch of a special counsel, there was nothing meaningful about Russia collusion in them but he had written them — and later testified about them — so as to suggest that Trump’s frustration with FBI game-playing was really an attempt to obstruct law enforcement.

Baker claimed that in addition to McCabe and others in senior leadership the FBI, “The heads of the national security apparatus, the national security folks within the FBI, the people that were aware of the underlying investigation and who had been focused on it” shared the same concern.

“Was there discussion about opening a case into the obstruction of justice matter?” Grooms pressed, after which Baker consulted with the unnamed FBI counsel present in the room as to whether or not he could answer the question.  Counsel replied that Baker could provide a “yes or no response,” after which Baker said, “Yes.”

On page 140, Baker responded in the affirmative to Grooms after she asked him if “…at some point you had a conversation with either Mr. McCabe or Lisa Page or maybe both about the idea of the Deputy Attorney General wearing a wire.”

Last year, Republicans on the House committees investigating the Trump-Russia collusion investigation origins attempted to interview Rosenstein on two occasions, both of which did not materialize. In a public statement from his office, Rosenstein denied a New York Times report that he had suggested “wearing a wire” to capture Trump’s conversations in the Oval Office, presumably to collect evidence of “obstruction.”

At one point, an unnamed Justice Department “official” reportedly told NBC News that the Deputy Attorney General was “joking” when he made the remark.

Baker told Grooms he “was not in the room” when Rosenstein allegedly made the suggestion to McCabe and Page (p. 141).  Under further questioning, Baker said that Rosenstein’s alleged idea was “dismissed” in short order because “it was an idea that just didn’t go anywhere because it was too impractical, too risky, and unclear that it –unclear that it would produce any results that would be useful.”

Shortly before, Baker told Grooms that he personally saw “the risks of it” as well as “some potential benefits to it.” Although not present when the idea first arose, Baker said, there were subsequent discussions of it including Assistant Director for counterintelligence Bill Priestap, FBI National Security Branch “head” Carl Ghattas, Page and McCabe.

According to Baker on page 144, Rosenstein and others at the Justice Department were having “long meetings” as to what actions they might take following Comey’s firing, with the implication that Rosenstein was unhappy that the letter he wrote recommending that Trump fire Comey was made public.

Baker then expounded (p. 145):

It was Rosenstein who hired Mueller one day after Trump interviewed Mueller to possibly replace Comey. As Hemingway pointed out in her column, the directive Rosenstein gave Mueller in assuming the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign changed on August 2, 2017 in a memo which has not been fully released to Congress or the American people.

Rosenstein is currently assisting Attorney General William Barr and Mueller to make what they believe are necessary reactions from Mueller’s report before releasing it to the public and Congress.

Many congressional Democrats have called for the release of the complete report although by federal case law, grand-jury testimony, which the report is said to contain, is expected to remain confidential.

Rosenstein was expected to depart the administration in mid-March, but shortly before Mueller’s report was turned in, Barr announced that Rosenstein would be staying on “a little longer.”

In March of last year just before he was about to apply for a pension and lifelong benefits. After reportedly being referred to the U.S. attorney in Washington, DC for possible criminal investigation as a result of the DOJ Inspector General’s investigation into FBI and DOJ actions in 2016, McCabe said he will be suing the Justice Department over his dismissal. He recently gave a spate of media interviews about his new book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.” 

During a February 20 interview with CNN, McCabe said he believes it “is possible” that Trump is a “Russian asset.”  Just over four weeks later, Mueller’s report cleared Trump and anyone in his campaign of having coordinated with Russians to win the election over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Baker, who was demoted in January 2018 and resigned from the Bureau last May, is currently a lecturer at Harvard, private consultant, and contributing editor to the Lawfare blog.


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