Déjà Vu All Over Again? House Freedom Caucus Attacks Russia Investigation

Given record of hyping past closed door interviews, large grain of salt suggested

Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), have long opposed the Mueller Investigation and have a record of overhyping “developments” gleaned from closed door interviews. Their salvos this week that a four-hour interview with James A. Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, revealed “explosive” information on the origins of the Russia Investigation should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. House Republicans, without any evidence,  previously accusedBaker of leaking details from the so-called dossier.

Throwback Thursday: In July, House Republicans privately interviewed former FBI lawyer Lisa Page in an attempt to undermine the 10-hour testimony by FBI Agent Peter Strzok. Republicans on the committee used the opportunity to reclaim the Russia narrative, without disclosing “significant new info” to the public. No developments ever emerged from Page’s testimony. The Baker testimony appears to be a strategy from the Page playbook.

Who is James Baker? Baker, who served three Republican presidents at the Department of Justice from 1990 to 2018, is an expert on FISA warrants, cybersecurity, and a tenured DOJ official. He ran the FISA warrant process for several years, and, as General Counsel of the FBI, would have been involved in overseeing the Carter Page FISA process. His record as a detail-oriented expert of national security suggests that he would have been extremely judicious in his oversight.

More of the same? The partisan House investigation has sought to discredit the Mueller investigation by providing “alternative facts” to counter the actual facts why the Department of Justice initially opened an investigation into the Russian ties of several senior members of the Trump campaign, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and President Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who have both pled guilty to federal crimes related to their Russia ties.

Actual Facts: Origins of the Russia Investigation

The Justice Department and the FBI opened a secret investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016.

  • In the early months, they focused on Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort; Trump’s top foreign policy advisor and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; and Trump foreign policy advisors George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.
  • All had ties to Russia and to Russian operatives. Some had been paid money by Russian entities.
  • The investigation started because DOJ learned that a Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, had interactions with a friend who promised information about Russia’s planned attack on the U.S. election. This investigation was the basis for the special counsel investigation.
  • Carter Page, soon became part of the investigation because of alleged contacts with Russian officials.
  • The so-called dossier didn’t reach the investigators until mid-September – nearly two months after the investigation began.
  • In October 2016, the FBI submitted an application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page because they believed he was being recruited by Russian intelligence as early as 2013, writing Page tried to “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”



February 9th, 2006: “James A. Baker, the counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, discovered in 2004 that the government’s failure to share information about its spying program had rendered useless a federal screening system that the judges had insisted upon to shield the court from tainted information. He alerted Kollar-Kotelly, who complained to Justice, prompting a temporary suspension of the NSA spying program, the sources said.” [The Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

February 12th, 2006: James Baker Challenges Administration on Improperly Obtained Information. “…James A. Baker, counsel for intelligence policy at the Justice Department, express concerns to the top FISA judges that information overheard by government officials may have been improperly used to obtain warrants from the court.” [Kansas City Star, 2/12/2006]

March 2nd, 2007: James Baker Challenges the Idea that the FISA Court Exists as a “Rubber Stamp.” BAKER: “Those minimization procedures require us to reduce the amount of irrelevant [information], meaning substantively irrelevant or irrelevant because it has to do with some other person who we’re not interested in. Every application has to have with it these procedures, and they require us to reduce the amount of irrelevant information that we acquire, the amount of irrelevant information that we retain and the amount of irrelevant information that we disseminate, so those three different stages of minimization.” [PBS, 3/02/2007],

September 18th, 2007: James Baker Testifies Before House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. CHAIRMAN REYES: “Our first witness today is James Baker. Mr. Baker is one of the nation’s foremost experts on FISA, having run FISA operations for the Department of Justice for the past seven years. In 2006 Mr. Baker received the George H. W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism, the CIA’s highest award for counterterrorism achievements. He is currently on the faculty of Harvard Law School.”

September 25th, 2007: James Baker Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Civil Liberties. BAKER: “I have prepared, reviewed, or supervised the review and preparation of thousands of FISA applications.” [Congressional Testimony, 9/25/2007]

April 23rd, 2008: James Baker Submits Letter to Senate Judiciary on National Security. BAKER: “As the 21st Century progresses, effective oversight of the intelligence community will become even more essential as the risks to our security and our liberty grow. It is likely that the threats we face from hostile foreign powers will only increase over time, as will the government’s ability to collect vast amounts of personal information (including our private communications and information about a wide variety of our activities), store that information, and use it in furtherance of its national security objectives.”

Darrell West, Brookings: “We are honored that Mr. Baker will bring to Brookings his years of law enforcement experience and his unparalleled expertise on matters of national security, particularly in an era of heightened concern over cyber security threats…” [Brookings, 5/05/2018]

Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare: “[Baker] is one of a small number of national security lawyers in the United States with the richest and most granular experience and operational knowledge. He is one of the very best of the very best.” [Lawfare, 5/07/2018]

David Kris, Former Assistant Attorney General for National Security: “Coup for Lawfare to get Jim Baker, who was a surveillance and national security law expert long before it became fashionable.” [5/05/2018]