Former FBI General Counsel (and now Twitter lawyer) James Baker has long been a lightning rod for critics over the role of the FBI in pushing false Russian collusion claims. Baker did not help himself with those critics yesterday when he took the stand in the trial of Michael Sussmann, former Clinton campaign counsel. After declaring Sussmann a friend, Baker seemed to shrug off the fact that he previously failed to turn over a critical piece of evidence to Special Counsel John Durham because “this is not my investigation. This is your investigation.”
Sussmann faces a single charge under 18 U.S.C. 1001 for lying to the FBI in a meeting with Baker.
In the indictment, Sussmann is accused of “mak[ing] a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation” in conversations with Baker. Durham argued that “the defendant provided the FBI General Counsel with purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based bank.”
Sussmann’s choice of Baker was little surprise to critics who have long viewed the former General Counsel as one of those officials who facilitated Russian collusion claims.
On the stand, Baker explained that he continues to be a friend of Michael Sussmann, who he met during their time together at the Justice Department.
The most striking statement in the testimony arose after Baker was asked about his belated turning over of a key piece of evidence. A text message from Sussmann before their meeting clearly showed Sussmann denying that he was contacting Baker on behalf of any client. He was representing the Clinton campaign and charged the time to the campaign:
“Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”
As I previously discussed, the text was a bombshell for the case in directly contradicting Sussmann’s claim that Baker merely misremembered their conversation.
Baker was asked why he never informed Special Counsel John Durham of the text despite the long investigation of Sussmann. Indeed, he did not turn over the text after Sussmann was indicted on September 16th.
Baker’s response was telling: “It’s frankly — I’m not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation. This is your investigation.”
That came off a lot like “why should I help you?” Even being used as a conduit for a baseless, false allegation by a campaign did not seem to motivate Baker to actively seek to turn over any evidence in his possession. The phone that Baker used in the DOJ was reportedly turned over the Inspector General but Baker admitted that the information was on the cloud and he was able to later locate it. However, the question is how this communication on a key issue under investigation could have skipped the mind or attention of Baker given prior interviews and testimony.
Baker said that he found the message in March and turned it over to his lawyer. That seems like a rather belated discovery. Alfa bank was under investigation for years, including extensive investigations by Congress, the Mueller investigation and the Durham investigation. Yet, Baker did not previously review his own interactions with Clinton counsel or involvement on either the Steele dossier or Alfa Bank allegations?
Baker specifically testified in 2018 on Russian collusion claims involving the Trump organization and campaign. This included extensive questions about his interaction with Sussmann. In the hearing, Baker told Congress that he “did not recall” if Sussmann said he was representing anyone in the meeting, even though he had a text expressly stating that he was not representing the campaign or anyone else in the meeting. Indeed, Baker testified “I don’t remember knowing why Michael Sussman, for example, was coming into the office.”
Even if Baker continues to maintain that he did not know that Sussmann was working for Clinton at the time of their meeting, it was clear early in the investigation that Sussmann and his partner at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, were involved in the allegations of a false campaign-driven Russian collusion allegations.
Baker, however, reportedly shrugged off the question and testified “I’m not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation. This is your investigation. If you ask me a question, I answer it.”
In truth, it is the investigation of the United States Department of Justice, where Baker held a top position.
The testimony left the impression that Baker was going to cooperate but could hardly be expected to seek to help the Justice Department in proving a possible crime by Clinton campaign counsel. He indicated that he had to be specifically asked for such information and could not be expected to volunteer it or to seek to confirm evidence in his possession: “Nobody had asked me to go look for this material before that.”
When he came into possession of information from Sussmann, Baker told Congress, “I wanted to get it out of my hands into the hands of agents as quickly as possible.” That did not appear the standard that he applied to evidence in his possession that was material to Durham investigation of the Clinton campaign.
It is just not Baker’s job. After all, this is not his investigation.