At some point in recent history, the self–professed party of law and order has turned into the party of politicizing and smearing some of the country’s top law enforcement officials. It’s a mystifying phenomenon to watch, although not that difficult to understand.
It’s also very slimy.
The latest chapter involves the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, who is being reassigned at the bureau, as first reported this week by The Washington Post. The sanitized version of this reassignment is that new FBI Director Christopher Wray is staffing his own team after President Donald Trump fired former director James Comey last May.
Comey and Baker worked closely together at the bureau, and Baker is one of three FBI witnesses who can confirm that Trump tried to strong–arm Comey into dropping his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since flipped and is now a government witness for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Comey resisted the president’s overtures on Flynn, and Trump even admitted on national television that he had fired Comey over that “Russia thing.”
A second witness Comey confided in at the FBI about Trump’s attempt to influence the Flynn investigation is FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In two closed–door sessions before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Judiciary committees this week, McCabe was grilled on everything from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email servers to what Comey had told him about Trump, and how the FBI used the infamous British intelligence dossier on Trump.
In the first closed–door session on Tuesday, Baker accompanied McCabe. This is where it gets weird, because GOP lawmakers began attacking Baker, accusing him of having been a source for Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who broke the Trump dossier story in October 2016. That accusation was so potentially damaging—and apparently untrue—that Corn broke with journalistic tradition and publicly and unequivocally said Baker was not his source for the story.
But in the world of Trump and modern-day Republicans who love to gaslight, the truth no longer matters—the accusations themselves are enough.
Despite Corn’s defense of Baker, Politico published a story on Saturday titled, “Top FBI official linked to reporter who broke Trump dossier story.”
According to that story:
House Republicans are investigating contact between the FBI’s top lawyer and a Mother Jones reporter in the weeks before the left-leaning outlet broke the first news story about the existence of a disputed dossier alleging ties between President Donald Trump and the Kremlin, according to two congressional GOP sources who described documents linking the two men.
The GOP sources said the documents — made available recently to lawmakers by the Department of Justice — revealed that James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel, communicated with Mother Jones reporter David Corn in the weeks leading up to the November 2016 election. Corn was the first to report the existence of the dossier on Oct. 31 and that it was compiled by a former high-level western spy.
“I’m not going to discuss my sources. But in order to prevent the dissemination of inaccurate information, I will say that James Baker was not my source for this story,” Corn told Politico.
Here is another important paragraph from the Politico story:
During the closed-door session, Republicans grilled McCabe about who at the department was authorized to talk to the media. One Republican at Tuesday’s intelligence committee interview with McCabe laid out a “hypothetical” example of the FBI’s general counsel meeting with a Mother Jones reporter.
Needless to say, it was more than clear where Republicans were going with this line of questioning. Baker didn’t return for a second day of questioning two days later.
In light of the most recent effort by Republicans to undermine the credibility of Mueller, the FBI, and anyone even remotely associated with the Russia probe, friends, former colleagues, and even Comey himself took to social media to defend Baker’s track record, his history of service, and his integrity.
“Sadly, we are now at a point in our political life when anyone can be attacked for partisan gain. James Baker, who is stepping down as FBI General Counsel, served our country incredibly well for 25 years & deserves better. He is what we should all want our public servants to be,” Comey tweeted on Friday night.
Lawfare Editor–in–Chief Benjamin Wittes tweeted a 10–part thread explaining Baker’s role in bringing down the wall between the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies post–9/11.
“He is not, whatever the fever swamp may be concocting about him, a partisan,” Wittes wrote. “I have known him for a long time. I have no idea what his politics are except some vague sense that they are moderate of some variety. He has worked comfortably in administrations of both parties.
“He is one of the most deeply respected national security law practitioners out there. The very best of the very best think of him as a peer.”
All of this comes in the wake of other coordinated attacks against the FBI and law enforcement officials by Trump and his GOP supporters in Congress. Many fear that Trump will use this to fire Mueller as the dragnet tightens around the president and his inner circle.
Setting that aside for the moment, at face value, these types of continued attacks—at the very least—are obtuse, obstructionist, and downright un–American. Or, should we say, they’re very Republican.